Microcells

Aspen has signed a master license agreement with AT&T that governs the big-picture agreements as the company begins the application process to build small cell wireless facilities in the public right of way. Existing “macros towers” central to the existing wireless network are shown here on the roof of the St. Regis.

Aspen City Council approved a pair of contracts related to small cell wireless infrastructure Tuesday night. While the city’s provisions regarding design guidelines for individual cell towers have not been completed, wireless companies have already begun to show interest in building out a 5G network in town, and this week’s contracts help address some administrative sides of that build out for now.

At the meeting, Mayor Torre acknowledged that the agenda items pertaining to small cell wireless could unsettle members of the public who oppose 5G in Aspen.

“This has been an issue of some concern for some of our citizens,” Torre said. “Many would wonder why we would be moving forward with any of this, and would ask us not to.”

AT&T has already applied for two small cell wireless towers in the public right of way. By law, the city is not allowed to outright deny companies access to the right of way. For a small cell wireless network to be most effective towers need to be placed about every 250 feet. Rather than use city staff time to negotiate a detailed contract for every tower application, the council approved a master license agreement between the city and AT&T that covers the general provisions that would be the same for every individual tower, regardless.

The contract is good for 10 years, and clarifies things like which party is responsible for maintaining the towers, and places a $270 “attachment” fee on every facility AT&T places in the public right of way. 

Assistant City Attorney Andrea Bryan worked along with a contract telecommunications lawyer to keep the agreement within the federal and state regulations, while acknowledging Aspen’s hesitancy to open up the town to an onslaught of applications. She emphasized that the master license agreement does not apply to specific sites, it only sets the stage to allow for more streamlined negotiations as those individual applications come in.

“If they want a specific site approved, they have to apply,” Bryan said.

If and when other wireless companies submit applications for small cell wireless boxes in the public right of way, they would be asked to sign a master license agreement that mirrors the deal with AT&T.

While the city is still undergoing an extensive public outreach effort, some guidelines are already approved within the land use code. Those restrictions are laid out in the agreement as it pertains to specific facility requests, including that the box cannot block windows or entrances, and must match the surrounding aesthetics. 

A second contract approved by council Tuesday night is an attempt to consolidate the growth of the small cell components in town, by hiring a third party to build infrastructure that would be desirable to cellular companies. 

The city can’t require companies to use the third party poles, but IT Director Paul Schultz explained that other cities have used the “neutral host” technique to minimize new structures, and avoid a scenario where all four major wireless companies build their own poles on every block.

Through an RFP process, Aspen chose the company Crown Castle to serve as the neutral host developer. The contract is in effect also a master license agreement, and does not have any financial implications at this time. Crown Castle would still need to go through individual applications in the same manner that any wireless company would for specific sites.

“(The) agreement … grants authorization for Crown Castle to use city property, in and out of the right of way, for the installation of small cells capable of hosting more than one carrier, and sets forth the general conditions that apply to any Crown Castle facility on City property,” reads the contract.

Councilmember Ann Mullins asked if there were any incentives that would be offered along with the neutral sites, in order to help guarantee that companies would use the locations once they are created.

“There are things the city can provide,” Schultz responded. “For example, using a city building and putting the infrastructure on the roof of a building — perhaps this building — as opposed to putting up new vertical infrastructure. So those types of things might be an incentive for carriers.”

The city continues to seek public feedback regarding the creation of small cell design guidelines. The next opportunity is Dec. 4 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the Limelight Hotel.

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.