County Takes Key Steps on 5G Policy

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Until July 9, the County’s telecommunications plan from 1998 did not address 5G technology.

Ordinance and regulations approved; next-generation cell service still years away

Whenever telecommunica­tions companies are ready to start installing small cell wire­less facilities in the unincorpo­rated areas of Marin County, they’ll have to adhere to new regulations approved July 9 by the Marin County Board of Su­pervisors.

As recommended by staff from the Marin County Com­munity Development Agency (CDA), the Board of Supervi­sors unanimously approved an urgency ordinance and new policy regarding the in­stallation of small cell wire­less facilities, including the fifth-generation cellular wire­less technology within public roads. The new policy goes into effect immediately.

CDA oversees the County’s telecommunications plan and created the guidelines to regu­late the permitting, design, and location of the small wire­less facilities within the public roads. The regulations outline the requirements for small cell wireless facilities, including 5G application, and installa­tion procedures, establish the County’s location preferences and design standards, lay out public notification procedures, and cover the appeal process.

Antennas for 5G are much smaller than those necessary for the existing 4G system. 5G devices would be installed closer to cell phone users, of­ten affixed to existing light poles, utility poles, and traffic light poles within the public right-of-way, including in resi­dential districts. It’s likely the installation will not happen for several years.

The County’s existing Tele­communications Facilities Policy Plan (TFPP) was first adopted in 1990 and compre­hensively updated in 1998 – more than 20 years ago. The plan did not explicitly address small cell wireless facilities. Similarly, the telecommunica­tions facilities ordinance, Sec­tion 22.32.165, also does not include explicit standards ap­plicable to small cell wireless facilities within public roads.

At the Board session, Su­pervisor Dennis Rodoni, who served on a Board subcom­mittee on 5G technology with Supervisor Damon Connolly, said there were many strong suggestions from residents concerned about 5G imple­mentation and those in favor of stronger wireless connectivity. He emphasized that town, city, and county governments have permitting authority over such 5G antenna installations, not state or federal governments.

“At this point I think we’re better off erring on the side of having something on the record and not waiting one or two months. “… This is a start, and we can revise it if we need to.”

Connolly said he also ap­preciated the concerns of resi­dents about the proliferation of small-cell antennas in residen­tial neighborhoods.

“I believe this ordinance strikes a difficult balance giv­en the current state of federal law through FCC regulation,” Connolly said. “I’m hopeful that current or future legis­lation will address some of the concerns raised today. … While we push for changes at the federal level, I believe this urgency ordinance is necessary and provides an objective set of standards for the deployment of small-cell technology in un­incorporated Marin.”

Board President Kate Sears described the ordinance as the strongest one that the County can develop at this point given the challenges at the federal level and ongoing proposed legislation. She encouraged staff to share more information on the County website about 5G implementation and local control of antenna installations.

“I think a lot of time has been put into this and a lot of very careful thought, and it’s a step forward,” she said. “We don’t benefit from delaying.”

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