Wireless Facilities Code Update
Skagit County is in process of updating the wireless facilities code language. The County is obligated to provide non-discriminatory access to its rights-of-way for telecommunications purposes. The industry will be in the process of installing wireless equipment to provide enhanced 4G and 5G service. Wireless providers are required to follow all federal and local regulations regarding installation of their facilities and equipment, including the County's development code requirements.
Since 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been actively involved in issuing rules and regulations regarding the deployment of 5G equipment and facilities in the right-of-way. It was the FCC's belief that local governments were unreasonably slowing the roll-out of 5G by either taking too long to process applications or charging too much for use of the right-of-way which, in turn, acted as a barrier to entry for the wireless providers. As such, the FCC adopted five separate “shot clock” time limits within which local governments must decide on small cell or other applications. The FCC also prescribed what counties and cities may charge for use of their rights-of-way when it comes to small wireless facilities.
Additionally, the FCC issued its classification for small wireless facilities which generally includes up to a 50-foot pole along with corresponding antennas and related equipment. Given that development, along with other guidelines issued by the FCC, it became necessary to update and modernize Section 14.16.720 of the Skagit County Code. Those modifications now cover both towers and small wireless facilities. It should be noted that the County still has the right to promulgate reasonable aesthetic standards for small cells as long as those standards are published in advance and readily available to the providers.
The changes to Section 14.16.720 reflect best practices from several other jurisdictions. They were designed to strike a balance of competing interests between the County and the provider community. It should also be noted that, under federal statutes, the County is not allowed to make its decisions on individual sites based upon environmental or health considerations. That is left to the exclusive jurisdiction of the FCC.