Across the country, wireless telecommunication providers have been on the move and are deploying the next generation of infrastructure to keep up with the ever growing demand for fast and consistent wireless service. Everywhere we go today, the growing demand is evident and it will continue to tax the current infrastructure. As more and more wireless service providers offer consumers unlimited data plans and devices become more powerful, changes to the current infrastructure are necessary. According to Ericsson, a telecommunication infrastructure manufacturer, the traffic generated by smartphones will increase by 10 times between 2016 and 2022. Furthermore, the total monthly mobile data traffic, per active smartphone, is projected to reach 25 GB.

One solution wireless infrastructure providers have designed to address the data demand is the distributed antenna system (DAS) network. DAS are a network of connected small cell antennas or “Nodes” that provide localized wireless service to a small area, generally within a radius of 300 feet or less depending on the surrounding topography and other clutter such as buildings or trees. These small antennas take some of the demand off the traditional macro sites that many people are familiar with. While less intrusive than the large macro sites in terms of overall size, because DAS Nodes only service a small area, they must be deployed in larger numbers. Furthermore, because the DAS Nodes are usually only 3-4 feet tall, they can often be mounted on existing utility poles, towers, or buildings.

While the demand for faster and better data coverage continues to grow, not everyone is happy with the deployment of these DAS networks. In order to regulate the placement of these Nodes, many municipalities throughout the Commonwealth have enacted new ordinances with regulations regarding the siting of the Nodes.

Currently, the installation of these systems is in flux. Last year, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued an order determining that pursuant to the Public Utility Code, 66 Pa. C.S. § 101-3316, operators of DAS networks are not public utilities and therefore are not entitled to a certificate of public convenience or CPC. As such, because of this order, DAS infrastructure providers would not have the same access a public utility would to local right-of-ways or the ability to bypass local zoning laws. In August 2017, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court granted a stay pending disposition of one of the infrastructure providers appeal of the PUC Order and oral argument on the appeal was scheduled for February 7, 2018. The outcome of that appeal will likely have a drastic impact on how DAS networks are deployed in the future.

For further information about the DAS networks, contact our firm and we will be pleased to discuss this topic with you.