As municipalities work to connect their communities, they often face a common challenge. How can you make your community attractive to providers while maintaining local control and community values? As Huntington Beach learned as we worked toward small cell deployment, bringing as many stakeholders as possible to the table is a necessary step in striking this balance.
Huntington Beach’s journey to small cell deployment began when the city finalized its acquisition of 11,000 streetlights from Southern California Edison in 2016. This was a cost-saving measure to the city (approximately $14 million over 20 years in savings!), but also gave us the ability to leverage our vertical assets to create a plan with providers to deploy small cells in Huntington Beach. In 2015, we hired CTC Technology & Energy to create a broadband strategic plan. They emphasized that our greatest asset was the streetlights that the city owned. The lights provided an incredible opportunity to create a public-private partnership to deploy small cells in Huntington Beach. In 2016, we engaged the services of Jory Wolf and Magellan Advisors to further assist us in deploying our plan.
As a city, we prepared for new deployments through several deliberate steps:
We created an internal telecommunications committee to evaluate our permitting processes. At the time, our internal permitting processes didn’t include any protocol for wireless siting in the public right-of-way, so we created an entirely new process for the permitting of wireless facilities through the public works department and amended our zoning code to permit small cells that meet our design standards within the public right-of-way. The committee created a forum that encouraged participation from all city departments – including our fire and police teams – to work together through this process, stay on the same page, and create city policies that worked for everyone. This was key in developing policies that were in line with our community values.
We worked with carriers to develop four pre-approved small cell design standards. These designs are now integrated into our permitting process, so if carriers’ deployments fit one of the four standards, they are free to follow a streamlined, over-the-counter application process to receive permits from the city. As we developed these design standards we had a few carriers push back with their own ideas, and we actually ended up incorporating their designs into our permitting process. Collaborating with carriers to develop these designs was integral to ensuring that the permitting process would work for not only the city, but the providers as well.
We worked with other cities in Orange County to develop best practices in wireless siting. As a group, we worked through similar questions together to problem-solve and create shared resources.
The city’s hard work paid off, and Philips approached Huntington Beach to offer a deal to deploy 200 Smart Fusion Poles – making us the first city in the country to have this technology. The poles include integrated stealth antennas that can support service from several providers at each location; So far, deals have been made with Verizon, AT&T, and Mobilitie. In addition to densifying the cellular network in Huntington Beach, the Smart Fusion Poles offer energy efficient LED lighting and lighting controls.
Not only do the poles create a source of revenue for the city, but more importantly, they provide an improved service to our residents, first responders, and visitors. There was absolutely a demand for a higher capacity network, and now there are services available that make it easier than ever to live, work, and vacation in Huntington Beach.
When the city began this journey, we had zero small cell activity in our area. Now, we are well on our way to a robust downtown network that is both accessible for carriers and beneficial for the city and its residents. Throughout this process, collaboration with stakeholders was important at every turn. After all, at the end of the day, a smart city is one that works well for everyone.
Antonia Graham is the Assistant to the City Manager and the Energy and Sustainability Manager at the City of Huntington Beach, California