While implementation is a long way off, the stage is set for faster Internet in North Carolina. House Bill 310, “Wireless Communications Infrastructure Siting,” was passed by the General Assembly during the Long Session and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper. The bill sets in motion the facilitation of 5G, (Fifth Generation) Internet speeds.
Rep. Jason Saine, (R-Lincoln) sponsored the bill, that underwent as much, if not more scrutiny of any bill that was passed during the Long Session. After being vetted in two House committees and four Senate committees, the bill ultimately passed with unanimous support in the Senate, and nearly unanimous support in the House.
The difference in 5G Internet speed, and 4G Internet speed, which is the most current technology, is estimated to be anywhere from 10 to 100 times faster.
Accenture, a large technology company, released a statement in January regarding a study they had completed that said, “Deploying the next generation of high-speed 5G wireless networks could create up to three million jobs and add approximately $500 billion to U.S. GDP through direct and indirect potential benefits.”
One of the first steps in preparing North Carolina to facilitate 5G was taken with Saine’s bill. It sets regulations for wireless providers to be able to co-locate on existing utility poles, as well as municipal and state rights of way.
Co-location is the installation of new wireless facilities on previously approved structures.
Instead of large cellular towers that dot the landscape, 5G uses small wireless facilities or antennae to transmit.
On May 30, Saine explained his bill to the House, saying that public policy must continually evolve to respond to the changing landscape of broadband capabilities, so that North Carolina’s citizens do not get left behind.
Saine said, “Small cell networks are critical to the deployment of 5G wireless technologies. Without small cells, providers cannot deploy 5G in North Carolina.”
Saine also said that several other states have passed similar legislation, and that the bill was critical for the state to move forward and remain competitive.
The bill allows cities to issue permits for new wireless facilities, and to charge fees for the permits. Also, the bill would prohibit a city from entering into an exclusive arrangement with any person for the use of the city utility poles. A city must allow a wireless provider to co-locate on utility poles at just, reasonable and non-discriminatory rates, not to exceed $50 per a city utility pole per year.
Cities will be allowed to charge wireless providers for the use of the city’s right of way, provided the fee is reasonable and nondiscriminatory. The fee cannot be based on the provider’s revenue or customer count, but must be in line with what others are being charged for use of the right of way.
The bill addresses the regulation of wireless facilities in the rights-of-way of state-maintained highways by adding the placement of wireless facilities to the list of allowable activities in the State rights-of-way. It authorizes the NCDOT to issue permits for the co-location of wireless facilities in the State rights-of-way. NCDOT would be required to approve or deny permits within a reasonable period of time of receiving an application.
All existing safety regulations as well as dimensions of new utility poles are spelled out in the bill.
The implementation of 5G technology will not come cheaply. A recent study published by Deloitte estimates the cost at $130 to $150 billion in fiber optic cable alone over the next five to seven years.
The study predicted, “Carriers will deploy many more small cells, ‘homespots,’ and hotspots in higher frequency bands, with a coverage radius measured in meters rather than kilometers. Without more deep fiber, carriers will be unable to support the projected 4x increase in mobile data traffic between 2016 and 2021.”
While the bill passed in an overwhelming bipartisan manner, one concern that was raised involved the question of safety for citizens located near the small cell devices and the radiation that they emit. Another issue raised was potential zoning concerns that could arise with cities yielding their control over rights of way within their jurisdictions.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, (D-Guilford) said that since the deployment of 5G technology is still a way off in the future, her preference would be to study the impact of the small cell towers on health, and also, “Before taking away of cities rights to control where these devices are placed.”