DDOT's Proposed Small Cell Infrastructure Guidelines Update

New technology leads to innovation, but at what price?


Cellular companies are upgrading their fourth generation wireless technology (4G) to fifth generation (5G), meaning an overhaul of infrastructure on our streets. In the District of Columbia (D.C.) and other cities around the country, cellular companies are proposing to erect thousands of 31-foot cell polls along streets and sidewalks. The challenge is finding a balance between the implementation of new technology with protecting the aesthetics and history of our cities.

On November 1, 2018, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) held a meeting to discuss the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) Draft Small Cell Guidelines in relation to D.C.’s monumental core. DDOT’s guidelines aim to provide regulatory parameters for the general standards and aesthetics of the proposed 5G small cell infrastructure.  

Implementing the next generation of wireless technology in DC will have a profound impact on the city’s streetscape, with potential to add nearly 2,700 street poles to the urban fabric. NCPC was critical of the current version of the guidelines, citing concerns over antenna size, subpar aesthetically designed poles, and the refusal of cellular companies to hotel infrastructure (multiple carriers providing services on the same pole). DDOT indicated that they cannot require hoteling because of legal restrictions by the FCC.  

After a long and controversial dialogue, NCPC voted to submit their comments to DDOT. In their comments, NCPC requested DDOT work with the commission, the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, and carriers to create a more “unified” design for the polls and equipment, and the commission encouraged DDOT and carriers to consider underground or rooftop small cell infrastructure implementation. NCPC will reconvene on December 6 with further discussion.  

ASLA submitted a comment letter in October to DDOT addressing their draft guidelines. ASLA, while supportive of the development of the guidelines, reminded DDOT that, “communities, especially in the nation’s capital, should be beautiful places, reflecting the time-honored tradition of civic commitment to high quality and lasting infrastructure.” ASLA requested DDOT amend their guidelines to protect D.C.’s tree canopy, as the existing protections do not take the current and future tree crown spread.  ASLA also asked for additional time for stakeholder comments to refine the guidelines because the process “should not be hastily implemented within the District’s distinctive landscape without a robust public engagement period.”

DDOT’s Public Space Committee, after reviewing all comments, is expected to finalize the guidelines in January 2019. ASLA staff will continue to monitor the public review process of DDOT’s guidelines and encourages chapters to be alert of similar developments in their states.


Kevin Fry
Director, PR and

JR Taylor
PR Coordinator