A pair of panels held before a full hearing room in Chicago for an ICC policy session Wednesday on adding small cell networks and preparing for 5G cellular infrastructure demonstrated a significant divide between carriers and municipalities on how to build out needed infrastructure, while all sides agreed that 5G technology will be a must-have upgrade.

Copies of Presentations from Panels

Small cell, or “micro cell”, networks serve much smaller areas than existing macro cell towers, measuring their coverage area in hundreds of feet, rather than miles, as with macro towers. These small cells, which would become the bulwark of coming 5G technology, would increase coverage in crowded urban areas as well as off-load data demands on macro cells with current 4G technology. 5G technology, which is not expected to be deployed for at least 2-3 years, would offer increased data speeds and lower latency (or response time) but is limited by shorter coverage areas than 4G technology.

Industry experts on both the first and second panels testified that data demands and wireless device growth has been exponential and is expected to continue to be for the foreseeable future. Today there are 395 million wireless connections in the U.S., more than there are residents. Americans used 25 times more mobile data in 2015 than they did in 2010. In Illinois there are 2.3 million local phone subscriptions, 2.6 million VOIP, and 13.8 million mobile subscribers. In 2015 there were only 12.8 million Illinois residents.

The first panel, focusing on physical network infrastructure needs, was the most contentious of the day, as Sprint Corporation Director of State Government Affairs Ken Schifman touted last month’s passage of SB1451, The Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act, which directs standardization of municipal permitting for small wireless cells, use of municipal utility poles and a standardized payment schedule for municipal pole use. Because industry needs to build out

Testifying later, Patrick Hayes, from the Illinois Municipal League, expressed his strong opposition to SB1451, “Communities are offended by this bill because infrastructure is imposed on their stuff,” said Hayes. While Chicago’s demand of “$1,000 per light pole” to install small cell antennas is on the high end of the cost spectrum, “industry’s response of $20 per year, per pole is just way too low,” said Hayes.

The industry position would result in overwhelming municipalities with permit review, would shift management of pole locations to industry, and could result in a “taking” since the industry would gain access to a public good, municipal-owned poles, without municipalities maintaining the right to refusal. “Is there a path to no, for industry?” said Hayes.

Commissioner John Rosales, a Gov. Bruce Rauner appointee, then asked Schifman during the panel’s question and answer period, “Why in the best practices section of your presentation, why did you feel you had right to use municipality poles, but in the past 4G build out, you created your own poles?”

“Because the cells need to be closer to where people are,” for 5G technology, Schifman said, avoiding the question of whether or not industry is proposing a taking of a public good.