Rapid City is poised to enter an agreement with Verizon to install what are essentially small-scale cell towers on public property that will improve wireless service for some users.
The City's Public Works Committee authorized the 15-year agreement with Verizon subsidiary CommNet Cellular Inc. by a unanimous vote at its meeting Tuesday. A full city council vote is scheduled for Monday.
By mounting what are called small-cell facilities on city street lights and other poles, Verizon aims to beef up its local mobile broadband network, a city memo says. The devices, which according to the memo are "generally less than 50 feet in height" and "include an antenna that is less than 3 cubic feet in volume and other equipment less than 28 cubic feet in volume," support both 4G and 5G services, the fourth and fifth generations of mobile broadband technology, respectively.
Installing the devices has an effect comparable to adding lanes on a highway, according to Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato. Speaking by phone on Tuesday, she said that small cells allow for more people to use a network simultaneously without overloading it.
"We’ve been deploying 4G small cells across the country for years now. It’s not really new technology,” Flato said.
Verizon approached the city about deploying small cells in town several months ago, according to the memo. Similar technology is mounted on public property in Spearfish, Yankton and Sioux Falls, according to Rapid City Assistant Attorney Carla Cushman.
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The agreement leaves room for the telecom giant to pursue the installation of small cells in city parks and on other public rights-of-way. If approved, Verizon will still have to submit an application to the city for each device that it wants to put up.
Applications would then have to be approved by city staff, Cushman said. Requests to install a small cell on a city-owned streetlight or pole would require an engineering review to determine whether one could bear the additional weight. The company can alternatively request to build a free-standing small cell or replace existing poles at its own cost.
In return, Verizon will pay the city $165 per device per year in addition to application fees, although Cushman said the arrangement isn't likely to be a "money-maker."
According to the city memo on the agreement, Verizon plans to mount small cells in "high demand areas" such as downtown Rapid City. Cushman said that Verizon officials indicated the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center as another possible location.
Although Flato said it's too soon to speculate on the number of small cells that could be installed, Cushman said applications to mount the devices are expected to come shortly after the agreement is authorized.
Cushman noted that AT&T has approached the city about installing small cells of their own, which would require a separate agreement.