5G in the City of Tampa

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General Information

5G technology is intended to deliver wireless internet access at least five times faster and more responsive than 4G networks—but its performance limits it to a shorter range. While a 4G cell site might cover a dozen city blocks, 5G’s faster frequencies demand more dense sitings.

Recently, federal and state governments have adopted laws and regulations facilitating the installation of ‘small cell wireless’ - commonly referred to as 5G - infrastructure in cities and counties across the country. In our state, the Florida Legislature adopted legislation in 2017 and in 2019 limiting a local government’s ability to regulate 5G infrastructure or small cell facilities within public streets and subjecting local governments to tight deadlines to approve or reject the request to install new 5G infrastructure in the public rights-of-way. These federal and state laws also restrict how much money cities can charge wireless firms for the privilege of putting 5G infrastructure in public rights of way.

The 5G infrastructure is usually installed in the portion of public rights of way near where other public utilities are located. The 5G infrastructure often includes a pole the size of a typical street light pole. Existing utility poles can also be used for installation of 5G infrastructure.

This technology can be a foundation for public wireless devices, as well as smart-city initiatives such as connected cars and other elements of the “internet of things.” But there are also concerns about the size, shape, and location of this new equipment. While each municipality can adopt certain objective design standards, federal and state law limits a city’s ability to regulate the size, shape and location of 5G infrastructure.


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Frequently Asked Questions

5G is the “fifth generation” of cellular networks. The ultra-fast wireless technology has been hailed as a major technological breakthrough that will allow for more reliable and faster internet service. In the longer term, 5G likely will help facilitate the mainstream emergence of innovations such as autonomous vehicles and traffic signals that read the flow of traffic and respond to accidents in real time
Updates to wireless networks usually come once every 10 years. The 4G network, for example, was introduced in 2010 and allowed for much faster wireless than 3G. The 5G network can transmit data by using radio waves higher on the electromagnetic spectrum, while other wireless networks, such as 4GLTE, use lower radio frequencies. In addition, many 5G networks are created by installing multiple small cells, which will complement large cell towers called macro sites, to provide seamless coverage.
SSmall cells are approximately the size of a pizza box or smaller and can be attached to utility or light poles or to buildings. The small cells work collectively to create radio access networks (RAN) and transmit data via electromagnetic radio waves (also known as radio frequency energy). The cells have a much shorter transmission range than traditional cell towers, typically 500 to 1,000 feet. Small cells can house 3G, 4G, 4LTE, and /or 5G networks.

Overall, the federal government is responsible for regulating small cells. Finding wireless telecommunications to be critical national and international infrastructure, the federal government centralized most of the regulation under the FCC to make this type of communication as available as possible and prevent discrimination against inaccessibility. The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. As an independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the FCC is responsible for implementing and enforcing the nation’s communications laws and regulations. (47 USCA sections 151 and 390.)

Many state governments, such as Florida, have also adopted comprehensive legislative and regulatory schemes to facilitate the location of small cell facilities in or on public rights of way. In Florida, these state laws and regulations were adopted to recognize the unique requirements for providing communication services with the use of small cells and to ensure that local governments treated these communication service providers in a nondiscriminatory and objective manner. As such, theCity’s ability to regulate the placement, construction and modification of small cells is set forth in and limited by federal regulations and state statute (Section 337.401(3), Florida Statutes). However, the City may adopt certain limited objective design standards including reasonable location context, color, camouflage and concealment requirements consistent with these federal and state regulations.

In addition, the FCC’s regulations include a definition for small cell that has height restrictions, antenna size, location specifications and a prohibition against human exposure to radio-frequency radiation in excess of the FCC’s safety standards. (47 CFR section 1.6002(l).)

The 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, determines safety standards for wireless networks.

The FCC says that its standards “incorporate prudent margins of safety,” adding that “radio frequency emissions from antennas used for cellular and personal communications service (PCS) transmissions result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times below safety limits.”

The FCC provides information about the safety of RF emissions from cellular base stations on its website.

Generally, no. The City authorizes installation of new small cell facilities in the public rights-of-way through its Right-of-Way permit process, which process is subject to and must comply with the restrictions imposed by federal and state law.

In addition to complying with certain objective design standards adopted by the City, small cell facilities installed in the public rights-of-way cannot materially interfere with the safe operation of traffic control equipment and sight lines and clear zones required for traffic and pedestrian safety. In addition, small cell facilities installed in the public rights of way must comply with ADA requirements, utility accommodation requirements imposed by FDOT and uniform building, fire, electrical and mechanical codes.