ISSUE: What’s the Deal With the Small-Cell Towers Popping Up Around Town? Is the City Able to Do Anything About Them?

FACT: The small-cell towers, often called 5G towers, are being installed by wireless telecoms around our city, and the country. Unfortunately, due to legislation passed by the General Assembly, the City has no regulatory authority over them.​
​​​​​​​State laws passed in 2017 and 2018, SB1282​ and HB1258​, respectively, made it very easy for mobile operators to place their hardware along the City’s rights of way. This means that if there’s an existing utility pole in a right-of-way, a wireless operator can place one of their small-cell towers on it. And if no pole is already in place, chances are they’re going to install one.

Since Virginia is what is known as a “Dillon Rule” state, local governments have limited authority to enact ordinances and laws. Unless the General Assembly has specifically granted a municipality the authority to make a rule about something, they can’t. And even if that weren’t true, any state law would more than likely override a local law, unless it’s grandfathered in as an exception.

Because of the laws, cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth can only deny a permit if the small-cell site doesn’t meet the building code or presents a public safety issue. Other than that, the law says we have to approve the permits if it falls in the City’s right-of-way. The City is working on some aesthetic guidelines for the providers to consider, but since the City has no regulatory authority over them, the best we can hope for is voluntary compliance.

Verizon and AT&T are the two current providers installing small-cell sites throughout Virginia Beach, though others have expressed interest. Keep in mind that the term “small” in this context refers to the range of the service, not the physical size of the hardware. In some cases, the finished installation can be as large as a household refrigerator.

That said, it’s not all bad news. The state laws only apply to public property and rights-of-way. If a provider says they want to install a 5G site on private property, like your backyard, you can say no. Or, you can negotiate with them for access. 

Additionally, in an effort to be good neighbors, the providers rolling out their 5G network in Virginia Beach have established websites and phone numbers where concerned residents can reach out to them. In some instances, after hearing from homeowners, a telecom has agreed to move a tower to an adjacent pole or install a pole nearby. However, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re under no obligation to amend their plans, and there’s no guarantee everyone who reaches out will have success.

If you have a question or concern about a tower, please see the contact information below. Each pole should have a sign attached identifying the owner. If you can’t locate the tag, you can give Permits & Inspections a call at 757-385-4211, ext. 3, provide the nearest address, and they can look up who owns the equipment on the pole.

Contact Information

Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless (“Verizon”)
180 Washington Valley Road, Bedminster, NJ 07921 

New Cingular PCS, LLC a/k/a AT&T Wireless (“AT&T”) 

Crown Castle NG Atlantic Inc. (“Crown Castle”)
513 Progress Drive, Suite M, Linthicum Heights, MD 21090

Cox Wireless Access, LLC (“Cox”) 
1341 Crossways Boulevard, Chesapeake, VA 23320

ExteNet Systems, Inc. (“ExteNet”)
3030 Warrenville Rd., 3rd floor
Lisle, IL 60532

Mobilitie, LLC (“Mobilitie”)
660 Newport Center Drive, Suite 200, Newport Beach, CA 92660

Contact Information

VB411 - Small Cell Towers and Trash Carts