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An appeals court in California handed T-Mobile a disappointment last week when it affirmed a lower court ruling allowing the city of San Francisco to regulate where small cells are placed based on aesthetics.

In 2011, San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring wireless providers to apply for a wireless facility site permit before installing or altering wireless equipment located in the public right-of-way. While the city said it wasn’t planning to regulate the technologies used, but said the ordinance was required to “prevent telecommunications providers from installing wireless antennas and associated equipment in the City’s public rights-of-way either in manners or in locations that will diminish the City’s beauty,” and, by extension, its economy.

Shortly following the passage of the ordinance, T-Mobile, Crown Castle and ExteNet filed suit, arguing the measure conflicted with state law. A trial court found the ordinance did not violate state law and T-Mobile et al filed an appeal.

The appeals court, however, sided with the city in upholding the trial court’s verdict that state law grants municipalities the authority “exercise reasonable control as to the time, place, and manner in which roads, highways, and waterways are accessed.”

The ruling comes amid an industry-wide push to densify wireless networks with small cells ahead of 5G.

But T-Mobile is far from the only carrier facing pushback from municipalities.

Earlier this year, Sprint acknowledged that its ambitious small cell build out plan had been slowed in certain areas by trouble securing the appropriate permits in some municipalities. Sprint CFO Tarek Robbiati said the carrier would continue to invest in small cell deployments as permits come through.

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