2016: California Appeals Court

Upholds small cells ruling against T-Mobile, Crown Castle and Extnet

T–Mobile, Crown Castle and ExteNet Systems v. City and County of San Francisco

by Colin Gibbs | Sep 16, 2016 1:13pm; Original article here

A California appeals court upheld a decision granting local governments in that state relatively broad aesthetic control over small cells and other wireless structures in public rights-of-way.

T-Mobile, Crown Castle and ExteNet initially brought a suit against the city and county of San Francisco, claiming the municipality couldn’t require permits or review sites based on state law. A trial court ruled in favor of the city, claiming that it could prohibit specific installments for aesthetic reasons.

At the heart of the case is an ordinance adopted by San Francisco in 2011 that requires companies to obtain a permit before installing or modifying any wireless facility in the public right-of-way. “The City does not intend to regulate the technologies used to provide personal wireless services,” the ordinance reads. “However, the City needs to regulate placement of such facilities in order to prevent telecommunications providers from installing wireless antennas and associated equipment in the City’s public rights-of-way either in manners or in locations that will diminish the City’s beauty.”

T-Mobile argued that the ordinance was in conflict with a state public utility code that allowed telecoms to construct and maintain lines on public roads and highways “in such manner and at such points as not to incommode the public use.”

The case underscores the growing tensions between some municipalities and telecoms looking to build out their networks with small cells and other transmitters. Small cells are widely viewed as a crucial component for wireless carriers as data consumption continues to ramp up, particularly in densely populated areas.

The haste to roll out small cells has resulted in pushback from some municipalities. For instance, The Wall Street Journal reported in June that Sprint’s efforts to deploy as many as 70,000 of the transmitters across the country had been delayed due in large part to trouble obtaining permits.

Some of that pushback has clearly been warranted given reports of vendors installing small cells without permits or that are simply eyesores.