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City considers 5G upgrade; groups discuss use of ‘small-cell wireless facilities’

MORGANTOWN — Fifth generation (5G) wireless technology is coming to West Virginia, and the City of Morgantown is among the stakeholders looking at how the digital upgrade can best be implemented.
City Attorney Ryan Simonton told members of Morgantown City Council he and Development Services Director Chris Fletcher met with representatives of Charleston, Huntington, the West Virginia Municipal League, the West Virginia Division of Highways and utility companies regarding the deployment of “small-cell wireless facilities” in the state.
“What the [wireless] carriers are proposing, in general, is preferential access to the public rights of way. They would like to co-locate on existing poles, usually at the tops of existing power poles,” Simonton said.
Simonton explained that the small-cell facilities in question are boxes measuring three cubic feet, prompting Mayor Bill Kawecki to ask if these facilities are what people have referred to as “refrigerators on a pole.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, at least 20 states passed laws regulating the permitting process for 5G implementation, including access to rights-of-way, application timelines and fees.
Similar legislation was unsuccessfully advanced during the 2018 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature. Simonton said he anticipates there will be another attempt in the upcoming session.
“We may also be introducing some local legislation to address the location of these facilities to the extent we’re able to provide some guidance,” Simonton said, noting the issue is also subject to federal rulemaking.
Simonton went on to say the city will charge application fees. If the boxes are placed on city-owned poles in the public right-of-way, permit fees could also be in play, as well as bonding for the necessary work.
Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy said it’s too early to know how many small-cell boxes would be needed to provide coverage in Morgantown.
“The city plans to reach out to AT&T’s contractor for this part of the state. We will have a better idea of the estimated number once we get in contact with them,” Stacy explained via email. “There are three or four other carriers who may build this type of network in Morgantown, but we haven’t heard from their representatives either at this point.”

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