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Yes. The County can deny projects on the grounds that it does not meet design standards. However, federal law (the Telecommunications Act of 1996) does not allow the County to enact a moratorium or prohibition on the installation of wireless equipment on the basis of aesthetics or for any other reason.
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Humboldt County residents, businesses and visitors have an expectation of access to fast, reliable mobile technology. There remain significant gaps in geographic coverage in Humboldt County. Further, increased density with smaller coverage areas will improve cellular experience for any customer on a carrier's network. This benefits all residents, especially those who rely on mobile phones for internet connectivity. The development of the next generation of mobile broadband networks (5th Generation, or "5G"), also includes the use of many low-powered wireless antennas to enhance connectivity, capacity and speeds.
Small cell facilities are a type of wireless broadband infrastructure. They typically take the form of small antennas (3-4 feet tall) that are placed on existing infrastructure (such as utility poles) and are accompanied by equipment cabinets installed lower on the pole. They are relatively new and are taking the place of large cell towers (macro cell technology), which can reach over a hundred feet high and are designed to cover larger geographic areas. Small cell wireless facilities are lower-power antennas that will comprise the 5th Generation or "5G" network.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in consultation with numerous other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, developed the safety standards that govern radio frequency (RF) emissions for small cells, the technology behind 5th Generation (5G) cell service. The FCC notes that its standards “incorporate prudent margins of safety” and that “radio frequency emissions from antennas used for cellular and PCS [personal communications services] transmissions result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times below safety limits.” Any wireless technologies deployed in the County are required to meet the FCC’s radio frequency (RF) emissions standards.
The FCC provides information about the safety of RF emissions from wireless telecommunications facilities on its website www.fcc.gov (specifically, www.fcc.gov/engineering-technology/electromagneticcompatibility-division/radio-frequency-safety/faq/rf-safety). You can contact the FCC directly if you have concerns about RF emission standards or the safety of new wireless networks.
Federal Communications Commission: 1-888-225-5322
Any wireless technologies deployed in Humboldt County are required to meet radio frequency (RF) emissions standards set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Questions on RF emissions safety can be answered here: www.fcc.gov/general/radio-frequency-safety-0
Federal law (the Telecommunications Act of 1996) expressly preempts state and local governments from addressing health concerns over RF emissions. This means that the County cannot deny a permit to construct a wireless facility on that basis; the County can only require the facility to comply with the emissions standards set by the Federal Communications Commission. As part of the County’s review of an application for a wireless facility, the County requires an RF emissions study for each type of equipment.
You can contact the Federal Communications Commission directly if you have concerns about RF emission standards or the possible health ramifications of new 5G networks.
The County does not direct the placement of wireless industry deployments. Carriers determine their network engineering needs and where to place equipment to meet current and projected capacity demands. Prior to receiving a permit, the carrier will have to meet certain engineering, safety and aesthetic standards. The Planning and Building Department has proposed design standards to ensure that potential aesthetic impacts are not significant.
5th Generation cell service or "5G" promises broadband speeds up to ten times faster than the 4G towers currently providing service to much of Humboldt County. 5G antennas are being deployed by many carriers in the largest cities and towns in the country. It is impossible to say exactly when carriers will begin deploying the antennas in Humboldt County, but we will likely see this technology in the coming years.
While the County reviews and approves the location of individual wireless applications, it must do so within parameters established by both federal and state laws that severely limit the County’s discretion. The County may require an analysis of potential alternative sites, but the County does not direct the placement of antennas.
Collectively, the federal and state laws prohibit cities and counties from:
1. Denying a carrier the ability to provide service either through explicit prohibitions (example: banning new wireless facilities) or through actions that effectively prohibit service.
2. Denying wireless applications based on health concerns, such as those expressed about radio frequency emissions.
3. Stalling or failing to make a decision. The Telecommunications Act and subsequent Federal Communications Commission orders impose a short time frame, often referred to as a shot clock, for a city or county to review a wireless application. Failure for a city or county to act results in the application being automatically approved without the ability to impose conditions of approval.
4. Denying a carrier from using the public right-of-way to install their equipment.
The processes proposed by the Planning and Building Department are designed to ensure compliance with the time frame imposed by the federal and state governments. Failure to meet required time frames (or "shot clocks") means that the application is automatically approved – without the ability for the County to impose conditions of approval.