The Illinois Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act

Implementing the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act

By Scott Brunton

email: scott.brunton@mhtlaw.com

In April 2018, Public Act 100‑585 – the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act (the “Act”) – was signed into law.  This Act became effective on June 1, 2018, and impacts all municipalities in the State of Illinois with the exception of Chicago.  Small wireless facilities – being antennas and other similar devices – are telecommunications hardware that can be attached to existing utility poles, light poles, or other structures  often found in the public right-of-way.  These small wireless facilities will allow wireless carriers to enhance cellular transmissions in hard to reach areas, while also allowing implementation of the next generation 5G wireless technology.  Illinois municipalities will need to act promptly to ensure that these small wireless facilities are not being installed and operated in municipal rights-of-way without permissible oversight by the municipality as provided under the Act – including the collection of permit fees.

In passing the Act, the Illinois Legislature noted that small wireless facilities are critical for delivering wireless access to advanced technology, broadband, and 9-1-1 services to homes, businesses, and schools in Illinois.  The Illinois Legislature further noted that this access to wireless technology is integral to the economic vitality of the State and to the lives of all Illinois citizens.  But, in making these proclamations and passing this Act, the State has significantly limited a municipality’s ability to regulate the placement and installation of small wireless facilities on any right-of-way under the control of the municipality.  The Act also requires that if a municipality grants access to other telecommunication carriers to municipal property outside of the public right-of-way, the municipality must provide the same access these small wireless facilities.

Specifically, the Act addresses the installation, mounting, maintenance, modification, operation, or replacement of small wireless facilities on any support structure or utility poles in a municipality’s right-of-way (this is defined as “collocation of small wireless facilities”).  Small wireless facilities are no more than six cubic feet in volume and “collocated” atop an existing utility or light pole or a new similarly styled support structure.  Basically, a municipality cannot regulate the installation or placement of small wireless facilities in a municipal right-of-way that do not exceed 10 feet in additional height on an existing pole or that do not exceed 45 feet in height for any new support structure.  As such, small wireless facilities are permitted uses and not subject to zoning review or approval if they are collocated in the right-of-way in any zoning district or outside of the right-of-way on property zoned exclusively for commercial or industrial use.  Further, a municipality cannot limit the number of wireless carriers installing small wireless facilities in the municipality.

The Act does allow a municipality to require a wireless carrier to submit an application for the installation of small wireless facilities with the municipality issuing a permit.  The application can require submission of certain information for each small wireless facility, including siting and mounting information (with a photograph), specifications and drawings, along with structural integrity analysis, prepared by a structural engineer, and  an installation schedule.  Furthermore, a municipality can propose alternate placements within 100 feet of the requested site to help ensure the integrity of the public right-of-way.  But, it is important to note that the Act provides a specific application review period, and if a municipality does not respond to an application within 30 days after the application is submitted, the application is deemed complete and approved.

Moreover, a municipality can assess a permit fee of up to $650 for the first collocated facility and $350 for each additional facility and up to $1,000 for a facility on a new pole.  Permits are to be issued for a five-year period.  With regard to small wireless facilities on municipal property, the annual permit fee is capped at $200.  However, a municipality cannot collect any permit fees without first adopting either an ordinance or a written fee schedule. Most importantly, a municipality has effectively until August 1, 2018, to adopt this small wireless facility fee schedule, or thereafter a wireless carrier can begin installing small wireless facilities in a municipality’s right-of-way without having to submit an application or pay any permit fees to the municipality.  If a municipality does wait until after August 1, 2018, to adopt an ordinance or permit fee schedule, the municipality will only be able to collect permit fees for any small wireless facilities installed after the municipality does adopt an ordinance or fee schedule.

The Act includes several other important provisions as well.  For instance, a municipality may impose design standards for decorative utility poles or other reasonable stealth, concealment, or aesthetic requirements for small wireless facilities – which may be very significant for certain areas within a municipality where appearance is important, such as a town square or a residential area.  Any ground-mounted equipment associated with the small wireless facility that is not attached to the pole or support structure can also be required to comply with the municipality’s undergrounding requirements or right-of-way permitting  requirements.  Additionally, wireless carriers can be required to meet indemnification and specified insurance requirements before undertaking work to install any small wireless facilities.  Last, municipalities can remove abandoned facilities that have not been operated for a 12-month period.  But, similar to the permit fees, these additional provisions must be enacted by the municipality through an ordinance in order to be enforceable.

This Act has been a couple years in the making as wireless technology is moving to the next generation 5G wireless technology.  Interesting, the Illinois Legislature established a sunset date of June 1, 2021, for this Act.  As a result, we can expect to see revisions or updates to this Act as we approach the sunset date in 2021.  Nevertheless, municipalities need to take the time to understand this new Act, while timely establishing a permit fee schedule to ensure that a municipality can capture the revenue from issuing permits for these small wireless facilities.