Municipal Right-of-Way and Telecommunications
This page provides links and examples of policies regarding the authority of local governments in Washington State to regulate the process for telecommunications companies to apply for access to public rights-of-way.
It is part of MRSC's series on Telecommunications.
Federal and State Statutes and Regulations
Telecommunications ordinances are required to comply with the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. That legislation provides, among other things, that local government regulations may not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of telecommunications services. For more details, see Sprint Telephony PCS, L.P. v. County of San Diego (9th Cir. 2008).
In addition, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a declaratory ruling that took effect in 2019 that is intended to speed the deployment of Fourth Generation (4G) and Fifth Generation (5G) small cell wireless facilities. Unlike traditional wireless towers, such facilities are commonly sited in rights-of-way on existing or new utility poles. For more information on the siting of small cell wireless facilities in municipal rights-of-way, see our blog post FCC’s Declaratory Ruling on 5G Small Cell Wireless Facilities. In addition, our Wireless Communication Facilities page has a section on small cell technology.
Applicable state law provisions include the following:
- Ch. 35.99 RCW – Establishes basic parameters of local government authority for cities
- RCW 35A.21.245 – Applies chapter to code cities
- RCW 80.36.375 – Regarding small cell facilities
Examples of Local Codes
Below are selected examples of local ordinances pertaining to telecommunications facilities in the public right-of-way.
- Bainbridge Island Municipal Code Title 19 (Communications Systems and Right-of-Way Use) – Provides comprehensive regulations covering all companies that install telecommunications infrastructure in the city, including small cell provisions
- Bellingham Municipal Code Ch. 13.15 (Utilities and Telecommunications Franchises) and Sec. 13.15.110 (Interference with right-of-way)
- Brier Municipal Code Title 4 (Telecommunications)
- Gig Harbor Municipal Code Ch. 12.18 (Right-of-Way Use - Master Use Permits and Utility Relocation)
- Issaquah Municipal Code Ch. 12.60 (Telecomunications)
- Kirkland Municipal Code Title 26 (Right-of-Way - Communications)
- Lacey Municipal Code Ch. 5.60 (Telecommunications)
- Pierce County Code Ch. 12.32 (Right-of-Way Franchises for Public and Private Utilities)
- Port Angeles Municipal Code Ch. 11.14 (Telecommunications Facilities Within Rights-of-Way)
- Poulsbo Municipal Code Sec. 12.02.015 (Conduit standards) – Requires the installation of conduit for telecommunications facilities whenever a new street is constructed, and authorizes the city engineer to prepare standards
- Shoreline Municipal Code Ch. 12.25 (Right-of-Way Franchises)
- Spokane Municipal Code Ch. 12.09 (Telecommunications, Cable - Municipal Authorization to Use Right-of-Way)
- Tacoma Municipal Code Title 16 (Cable Systems, Open Video Systems, Telecommunications Systems, and Private Communications Systems)
- Tumwater Municipal Code Title 11 (Telecommunications and Telecommunications Facilities)
- Zillah Municipal Code Ch. 12.14 (Public Right-of-Way Excavation)
- Kirkland Zoning Code Sec. 117.15.18 – Defines “small cell network” while Section 117.35 establishes that a permit must be obtained from the city before any wireless service facility may be constructed on any public or private land or right-of-way.
- Sequim Municipal Code Sec. 18.61.020 – Defines “small cell network” while Section 18.61.040 provides that small cells are allowed in all zones and that the applicable permit process depends on whether stealth technology is used and/or a new support structure is being proposed. Section 18.61.070(K) provides that, unless otherwise exempt, all wireless facilities (including small cells) in the public right-of-way require a franchise.
- Snoqualmie Municipal Code Sec. 17.77.020 – Defines “small cell” and “small cell network” while Section 17.77.040 sets forth location hierarchies and provides that small cell facilities require a wireless communications facility permit.
- Spokane Valley Municipal Code Ch. 22.121 (Small Cell Deployment)
- Washington Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers (WATOA) – Washington State chapter of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors
- Baller Herbst Law Group: A Practical Primer on Pole Attachments (2012) – A review of the relevant considerations and options available to municipal entities to manage the pole attachment process in an innovative and cost-effective manner
- Federal Communications Commission: FCC Fact Sheet and Declaratory Ruling (2018) – Regarding 5G small cell deployment
- National League of Cities: Small Cell Wireless Technology in Cities (2018) – Includes graphics of small and macro cell facilities, a discussion of federal and state policies regarding municipal siting processes, and city examples of aesthetic provisions; business process improvements to address the speed of broadband and small cell application processing; the use of citizen advisory committees; and six strategies for city leadership.