In 2018, the Municipal Association released a model ordinance for cities and towns to use in regulating the installation of small wireless facilities. Many cities and towns adopted a version of this prior model ordinance. In September 2020, the General Assembly passed the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act. This new law preempts most local control over deployment of small wireless facilities within municipal rights-of-way. The new law is inconsistent with the Association’s prior model ordinance.
To ensure compliance with the Act, the Municipal Association prepared a revised model ordinance for small wireless facilities. The revised model ordinance complies with the new law and reflects the allowable fees and rates. It also provides cities and towns a method for designating design, historic and underground utility districts.
Municipalities that adopted the prior model ordinance should repeal their existing ordinances and replace them with the revised version.
Municipalities that adopted local ordinances not based on the model ordinance should review those ordinances to ensure their ordinance complies with the law.
Finally, given the growing importance of small cell facilities, those cities and towns that have not yet adopted any regulations should consider adopting the revised model ordinance.
There are two key features that will likely require local action for cities and towns that adopt the revised model ordinance:
- Cities and towns must identify and designate design districts, historic districts and underground utility districts by official action. Many already recognize design districts and historic districts through zoning ordinances, but they may not have not officially designated underground districts, and will need to do so.
- Under the revised model ordinance, cities and towns may adopt a design manual that contains specific aesthetic requirements for small wireless facilities. In addition, the design manual may offer examples of preapproved designs.
The previous law — and the prior model ordinance — exempted retail telecommunication providers who pay business license taxes under SC Code Section 58-9-2220 from paying application fees and occupancy rates for small wireless facilities. The new law and the revised model ordinance remove this exemption, so municipalities may now charge the full fees and rates permitted by the law.