Municipalities and Public Utilities: How to Respond
to Requests for Modifications

In the past year, many of our municipal clients believe they have been bombarded by requests from wireless service providers (WSP) with whom they are engaged in cellular leases, to modify equipment on cell towers, water towers, and rooftops owned by the municipality or utility. These beliefs are not unfounded. Here is a list of typical equipment modifications and technological upgrades requested by each of the Big 4 carriers during the past three years:

  • AT&T: LTE- Initial, LTE-700MHz, LTE- AWS Spectrum
  • Sprint: LTE-Initial (Network Vision), LTE-800MHz rebanding, 2.5GHz
  • T-Mobile: LTE-initial, LTE-AWS
  • Verizon: LTE-Initial, LTE-700MHz and second carrier, LTE-AWS Spectrum

On average, there has been approximately one request per year per WSP. Compound that by the number of leases each municipality or public utility has with each WSP, and the requests may seem endless. Every time a WSP needs to make changes, the formal requests include one or more of the following additions and/ or replacements:

  • Cabinets in the Base Transmitter Station (BTS)
  • Antennas on the Cell Site structure (typically resulting in significantly larger antennas)
  • Antenna Mounts
  • Remote Radio Heads (RRUs) or Remote Radio Units (RRHs)
  • Coaxial or Hybrid Cables (for backhaul)
  • Surge Protectors
  • Microwave Dishes
  • Other

Replacement antennas can sometimes be double the size of the previous antennas. Collectively, new antennas and remote radio units can add 500 lbs. or more of structural loading to the structure.

The process utilized by the WSPs is as follows: They typically send a letter to the structure owner (rooftop, tower, or water tower) suggesting that they would like to make minor modifications which are necessary to keep pace with technological advancements. The letter references the need for the WSP to remain competitive, and often implies that these modifications will enable the WSP to continue operations at the site. Furthermore, there is a very vague suggestion that the changes are allowed under the lease; however, in our experience, WSPs make this claim regardless of whether the lease actually contains any such allowances. And exclusively, these letters NEVER make an offer for additional fees or increase rent, even when such increases are clearly expected under the lease agreement.