Planning Commission charges staff to craft ‘mini cell tower’ regulations

The meteoric change and growing demand of personal cell services has put a strain on local cell service providers to offer better and faster coverage to every corner of Kenton County. This has prompted the introduction a new distribution method called distributed antenna systems (DAS). A DAS is a way to deal with isolated spots of poor coverage and/or capacity within a community.

Kenton County communities are already receiving requests to install distributed antenna systems within their jurisdictions.

“Villa Hills was first approached for permission to install DAS sites in March of 2015,” said Craig Bohman, the Villa Hills City Administrator/Clerk. “The City Administration Office has received a couple of calls about low signal strength, both of which come from areas where proposed mini towers would be nearby.”

Distributed antenna systems are typically located within rights of way and provide coverage within a 300 to 400 yard radius of the tower. In most instances, the poles used are only slightly taller than typical utility poles. They can be very simple wood poles, but they can also be made out of other materials and in other colors so as to fit better into its surroundings.

“According to state law, new cell towers fall to the Kenton County Planning Commission to review and approve,” said Andy Videkovich, PDS’ planning manager who is overseeing the process. “State law was drafted at a time when large, freestanding towers (also called macro sites) were the norm. Distributed antenna systems are considered towers by the definitions of state law, but since the laws were drafted to regulate only macro sites, they do not do an adequate job regulating these mini cell towers.”

All the engineering, application submittal requirements, and notification requirements required by state law are overly prohibitive to allow mini cell sites into Kenton County’s communities, according to Videkovich.

“The initial confusion over whether or not the mini cell towers fell under the same rules as regular cell towers definitely slowed the process,” says Bohman, “Further, the lack of regulation on how to blend in these new towers into existing residential communities also delayed their installation.”

Distributed antenna systems can provide many benefits to a community. One benefit is public safety. As more and more homes in Kenton County give up their land lines, it is important that cell coverage and capacity throughout the county is strong enough so someone in their basement, for instance, can make calls to 911 in an emergency.

Just as important for first responders is finding your location. These distributed antenna systems will improve the accuracy of a cell phone’s GPS locator from within buildings so first responders can locate a person during an emergency more easily.

The Kenton County Planning Commission and PDS staff have been working to update the county’s regulations to address this new technology. In meeting with local elected and appointed officials, it is clear that Kenton County communities see the need to have these regulated.

At the same time, local cell service providers have expressed frustration that current state laws prohibit the deployment of these systems. Meeting all the current state law requirements is cost prohibitive for what is in essence the construction of a specialized utility pole.

“The design of the mini towers is important. While strong signal strength for wireless devices is an amenity that adds to a community’s quality of life, other amenities such as the look and feel of a community also add value,” according to Bohman. “There should be a way to deploy this new wireless platform without negatively impacting the planned aesthetics of an area.”

The goal of these new regulations is to make sure that there are practical and reasonable safeguards in place that will help protect the community from a proliferation of unsightly poles. The Planning Commission has also recognized that there is a need for better coverage, and a complete exclusion of distributed antenna systems will not provide the citizens of Kenton County with the best coverage possible.

“As more and more wireless devices are placed in use, there will be a greater demand on signal use. Having the mini cellular technology would address low signal strength in some areas,” concluded Bohman.