Q&A on Municipal Codes
Q. What is a municipal code?
A. Every local government establishes its own regulations for how land can be used within its boundaries. It’s what makes a residential area residential, and a commercial area commercial. The code also determines how, where, and under what circumstances cell towers and small cell antennas can be deployed.
Q. Can a municipal code help protect the community against unreasonable deployment of small cell antennas?
A. Yes. Congress specifically reserved for local governments the right to control how new technologies are deployed in their communities, and the way that happens is in their municipal code. While no local government can prohibit wireless antennas completely, a strong municipal code can give local officials some important tools to use to prevent unreasonable deployment. See our Municipal Code Checklist and Advisory Bulletin on Smart Planning Provisions.
Q. Do all municipal codes cover the deployment of small cell antennas?
A. Not necessarily. Many local governments haven’t updated their codes in years, so they may only have a code that covers large cell towers, not small cells. This is important because any telecom that applies for a permit to install a small cell antenna will be bound by the code that is in effect when they file their application.
Q. How does a municipal code get updated?
A. Every local government has the power to update their code at any time. Most towns and cities have a Town Council or Town Board that has the authority to change the code.
Q. How do I find out if my town has an up-to-date code?
A. Simply search for the name of your town and “municipal code.” Then search for the word “wireless” and see what comes up. If the words “small cell” or “personal wireless device” do not appear in your code, chances are good it needs to be updated.
Q. How do I find out if an application for a cell tower or small cell antenna has been filed?
A. Call your town building department and ask if they have received or approved any applications from telecom companies. You may have to file a “Freedom of Information” request to get copies of the documents.
Q. Our town has hired an outside legal firm to help write a new code. Is that good?
A. Maybe and maybe not. Many of these firms receive referrals from the telecoms themselves, and therefore the new code they will propose will be designed to assist the telecoms, not protect the public. It’s critical that any outside firm or consultant be required to submit a full disclosure and Conflict-of-Interest document noting any prior or existing relationships with telecom companies.
Q. What kinds of provisions should be in an up-to-date municipal code regarding wireless technology?
A. In consultations with our legal team we have developed a simple two-page document which describes some of the provisions which every local government should have in their code.