Streetlight 100 Benton Way American Canyon wireless law

American Canyon wants to regulate the installation of wireless antennas atop streetlights, like this one at 100 Benton Way.

Noel Brinkerhoff, Eagle

American Canyon is hoping to establish regulations this year that will allow telecommunications companies to install small wireless transmitters atop utility poles — assuming the state doesn’t again come up with its own plan that would nullify local control.

The city has had a temporary moratorium in place for nearly two years that has kept Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and other carriers from using light and telephone poles for so-called “small cell” equipment the industry is increasingly using to boost Internet signals in neighborhoods.

Industry statistics reveal the need for more bandwidth in urban communities as a result of the ubiquity of wireless signals.

According to AT&T, 95 percent of Americans today have a cell phone, and 77 percent own a smart phone.

Sixty-two percent of American households communicate mostly wirelessly, while data traffic increased 250,000 percent from 2007 to 2016.

The demand for small cell facilities arose in American Canyon two years ago, when telecom infrastructure company Mobilite approached the city about setting up some equipment on a light pole off Benton Way.

The request prompted the City Council in 2016 to adopt an emergency ordinance because American Canyon lacked local rules for the placement of such equipment in the public right of way.

The temporary ordinance halted any small cells from going up until city planners could draft regulations governing their size and appearance.

But then last year state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and other lawmakers sponsored an industry plan, SB 649, that would have restricted local governments from regulating small cells.

The move forced the city to delay introducing its own ordinance while officials waited to see the outcome of SB 649, which was approved by the Legislature but later vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

With that behind them, city planners are again working on a permanent ordinance that will spell out size limitations as well as aesthetics for small cell equipment.

At the City Council’s meeting scheduled for Jan. 16, Community Development Director Brent Cooper intends to ask for an extension on the moratorium to give his staff more time to draft the new rules. The temporary prohibition expires Feb. 4.

Cooper has looked at other cities to see how they have handled the growing demand for local transmitters to increase Internet service.

He told the Planning Commission in December that ordinances adopted in San Francisco and Walnut Creek could serve as models for American Canyon to follow.

At the same time, Cooper intends to speak with representatives of telecoms and the local Chamber of Commerce to ensure American Canyon’s ordinance is not “unrealistic” for the industry.

He will also draft a lease template to use when the city signs deals with telecoms for installing small cells in the community.

The city of Napa recently reached a deal with Verizon that calls for the company to pay $100 annually for each location where it installs a cellular transmitter.

While working on an American Canyon ordinance, Cooper also will keep a watchful eye on the legislature in Sacramento.

He said he’s heard from the League of California Cities, which opposed SB 649, that the telecom industry may try again to introduce a new state law that would govern the siting of small cells in the state.

“The industry is going to come up with a new plan,” said Cooper last month.

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