Small Cells Project

As wireless communication technology continues to advance, wireless service providers are working to expand 5G networks throughout the United States.  This requires deployment of small cell technology (small wireless facilities) which will make up the infrastructure of 5G networks and help provide better wireless service coverage throughout the United States.  In September 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed a declaratory ruling titled “Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment” to support the proliferation of small cell technology.  The ruling restricts the authority of state and local governments to regulate small wireless facilities, limits fees that can be assessed by municipalities on the review of applications for these facilities, and places new limitations on discretionary aesthetic criteria that cities can apply to these facilities.  The ruling creates a time frame (“shot clock”) for review of new application for small wireless facilities.  The City of Fremont is adhering to this Federal regulation to allow Wireless Service Providers to process new applications for small cells within the public right-of-way. 

City Council Agenda for Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Frequently Asked Questions 




1. What is a small cell facility?

A small cell facility generally consists of a small antenna, radio, and other accessory equipment on an existing facility within the public right-of-way.

2. What is the Public Right-of-Way?

The public right-of-way (PROW) can be generally described as the surface of and the space above and below any public   street, including the sidewalk, designated for a vehicular, bicycle or pedestrian use by the public that is maintained and   regulated by the City of Fremont.  The edge of the public right-of-way is often the property line for an abutting property.

3. Who do these small cell facilities serve and which companies own and operate them?

The wireless facilities installed on street light poles and wooden utility poles are primarily intended to serve customers of   wireless service providers licensed by the FCC to operate in the State of California.  Currently, within the City, Verizon,   AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint are the dominant wireless service providers.  Other companies may also install and own   small  cell facilities and lease them to the above-mentioned wireless providers.  Some of these companies are Crown   Castle, ExteNet Systems, and Mobilitie.  All wireless services providers are authorized by the California Public Utilities   Commission (CPUC) to install and operate facilities within the PROW.

4. What governs small cell deployment?

Small cell deployment is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which has placed limits on the regulatory authority of cities.

5. What is a Master License Agreement?

A Master License Agreement (MLA) is the agreement between a wireless service provider and the City to allow for wireless facilities to be installed on city owned and operated street lights.  The MLA specifies the terms, conditions, procedures, and other requirements that the wireless service provider must adhere to in order to install small cell facilities  on the City’s facilities.

6. What is the process that a wireless service provider has to go through in order to install a small cell facility on      a City of Fremont street light pole?


A wireless service provider would first have to execute a Master License Agreement (MLA) with the City, pursuant to a   MLA template adopted by the City Council.  This MLA allows a wireless service provider to apply for Pole License Agreement (PLA) for the installation of a small cell facility on a particular City owned street light pole.  After the PLA is executed, the wireless service provider has 30 days to submit an application for a Ministerial Design Review with the Planning Department and an Encroachment Permit with the Public Works Department (PWD).  Upon approval of these   regulatory applications, the wireless service provider can then proceed to install the small cell facility at the subject   location, subject to inspection and final approval by City inspectors.

7. How are small cells permitted in the City of Fremont?

Wireless providers must first obtain permission from the owner of the pole in the public right-of-way where they plan to   install the small cell.  Then the wireless provider submits an application for a ministerial design review permit and an   encroachment permit, which are reviewed concurrently by Planning and Engineering to confirm that the wireless facility   complies with the Wireless Design Guidelines and all City standards for construction within public rights-of- ways.

8. Will the community be notified of where small cells are being installed?

Wireless service providers will be required to notify the owners, tenants, manager, or property manager for properties located immediately adjacent to the street light pole or utility pole upon which a small cell facility is being installed. If the   streetlight pole is located on a common parcel line, then both the properties on either side shall be notified by the wireless provider a few days prior to start of construction. The format & content of the notification shall be approved by   the City.

9. What is the benefit of small cell technology?


In addition to providing better wireless service in areas with spotty coverage, small cell technology will help wireless service providers increase capacity and transition from 4G to a 5G network easier to meet the increasing demand for faster and more reliable wireless services.

10. What is the range of a small cell facility?

Small cell facilities have an approximate range of 150 to 500 feet due to their low mounting height and low power output.   Their range is also affected by trees and buildings which can potentially block the signals.

11. Can the City of Fremont prohibit the installation of small cells?

No.  Under state law, wireless service providers have a right to install small cells within the public right-of-way, even on   separate poles.  In addition, the Federal Communications Commission has interpreted the Telecommunications Act of   1996 to preempt cities and other local agencies from denying wireless providers access to government owned structures   in the public right-of-way.  As a result, the City can merely standardize the use of the public right-of-way and its facilities   in the public right-of-way, rather than prohibit the use by wireless providers. 

12. Can the City prohibit the deployment of small cell facilities on wooden utility poles owned by PG&E?


No.  Under State law, telecommunications carriers have a right to install wireless facilities on wooden utility poles in the   PROW.  In addition, the Federal Communications Commission has interpreted the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to   preempt cities and other local agencies from denying wireless providers access to government owned structures in the   public right-of-way.  As a result, the City can merely regulate the use of facilities in the public right-of- way, rather than   prohibiting the use by wireless providers.

13. Does the City prefer wireless small cell facilities on wooden utility poles?

No.  The City prefers wireless services providers to locate small cell facilities on street light poles since the entire city is   designated as an undergrounding district and eventually all utility facilities in the City will be required to be placed underground.  As a result, the wooden utility pole will no longer be needed for utility lines and the only poles in the public   right-of-way will be streetlights.  Moreover, installations on street light poles are visually less intrusive than small cell   facilities mounted on wooden utility poles.

14. What aesthetic standards will be applied to small cells?

Wireless facilities are subject to the rules and guidelines provided in the Citywide Design Guidelines, Chapter 4, Section   6. Right-of-Way Installations. The Guidelines can be downloaded from the following web page: https://fremont.gov/1263/Design-Guidelines 

15. Are there any health and safety concerns to be aware of?

Wireless antennas are closely regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Small cell antennas transmit very low levels of radio waves compared to traditional macro cell antennas (cell towers).  The approved radiated   emission levels from small cells meet the current accepted health and safety guidelines.  The safety of radio waves has   been extensively studied and government agencies and groups that set standards continuously review this research.   For  more information, please refer to the FCC’s Safety FAQ.  Additional details can be found at the U.S Food and Drug   Administration, the National Cancer Institute, and the World Health Organization. 

16. Are these facilities subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) or additional environmental              review?

No.  Installation of small cell facilities on existing street light poles are categorically exempt from CEQA pursuant to sections 15301, 15302, and 15303 of the Guidelines for CEQA.


Contact Information


Kei Louie
(510) 494-4727
Email