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J.D. Salinas, AT&T's director of external affairs, made a presentation to Donna City Council about the deployment of new small cells technology.

DONNA, RGV – The City of Donna will be the first in Texas to partner with AT&T and deploy small cells or ‘nodes’ to improve cellular network capacity for its residents, an AT&T representative said.

The AT&T director of external affairs and former Hidalgo County Judge, J. D. Salinas, was at the Donna City Council meeting on Tuesday and shared with the Rio Grande Guardian in an exclusive interview how the city would be the first in the state to prepare a small cell deployment.

“Well Donna, if they have their small cell deployment, which this is the first of today, we’ll be prepared, way ahead of anyone else,” Salinas said. “Small cell deployment allows for us to get to 5G. So, they should be the first ones in the state of Texas to have a small cell deployment.”

The agenda item at the city council meeting read: “Discussion and possible action for approval of ordinance No. 2017-13 for Small Wireless Facility Siting Ordinance establishing standards for network nodes and node support poles in the Public Right-of-Way in the City of Donna.”

Donna city council members approved the ordinance unanimously.

Salinas said the city has already taken steps to prepare for the small cell deployment and now AT&T is eager to invest into the community and provide the new 5G network in the near future.

“What Donna has done today is taking the progressive step forward before the law takes effect in September 1,” Salinas said. “They’re prepared and they already put poles for us to attach the small cells. As you may know, small cells prepare AT&T to reinvest money into the community. We’re going to go ahead and prepare them for 5G and we’re excited. We’re excited because they’re very aggressive and have taken a step forward today.”

The state law Salinas was referring to was Senate Bill 1004, which limits the size of the fee a city can charge a telecommunication company that wants to deploy network nodes on a public right-of-way.

Salinas said the small cell deployment would increase cellular network capacity in different areas of the city and are placed on utility poles or traffic lights, an alternative to macrocells.

“The best way to describe it is that the small cells deployment allows for more bandwidth to be on our service without having to invest into macro towers that are aesthetically not pleasing,” Salinas said. “What happens is now our service will be multiplied and will be faster in some areas in the city of Donna that we’ve identified.”

AT&T, the telecommunications conglomerate, plans on launching the 5G network towards the end of 2018, Salinas said, adding Donna is moving in the right direction with the partnership by staying ahead.

“We’ve done this around the state of Texas,” Salinas said. “We are happy that Donna has included us and we’ve been sitting down with them to make sure they’re aesthetically pleasing. We want to make sure that our small cell deployment is gonna be without too much of a hiccup and we’ve been happy because here in Donna they invite us and are taking the first step forward. This also prepares them for 5G, which AT&T is prepared to launch in the latter part of 2018. We’ve stepped up our aggressive pace to do that, so we’re excited.”

Salinas said the city plans on installing six small cells so far, but says there could be more in the future with the way Donna has been growing.

“Today we’re planning for a handful here in the city of Donna, but we’re preparing to have some more,” Salinas said. “So today we are preparing for, my network technicians were saying, at least half a dozen because that’s what they identified. But with the growth of Donna, we’re going to work with the city and make sure to get ahead of it. We know that the port of entry is growing, we know that their economic development plan is very aggressive, so we want to get ahead of them and make sure that they have the service they need.”

The City of Donna will be ahead of the curve when it comes to increasing network services, Salinas predicted. He believes other cities should do the same.

“What Donna should expect, the citizens of Donna, is that their AT&T services is gonna be faster, its gonna be better prepared, that when 5G comes, they’re going to be way ahead than anybody else probably in the state of Texas,” Salinas said. “So it’s an incredible story and I think that others should take instead of taking taxpayers money to take other avenues, they should probably learn from what’s happening today so that a Fortune 10 company like us can come and invest their money back in the city.”

Although Donna is partnering with AT&T to deploy small cells, the city of McAllen filed a lawsuit in early July against the state of Texas over SB 1004. McAllen city manager, Roy Rodriguez, said in a meeting at the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council last month that it would cost the city close to two million dollars if the bill survived. Rodriguez also noted the City of McAllen’s opposition in an RGG LIVE conversation with Rio Grande Guardian publisher Mark Hanna recently.

Salinas said the reason why they were able to partner with Donna was because of how they’ve been pursing an ‘aggressive’ economic development plan and began negotiating in February.

“The city council and the city staff have been very, very, progressive in working with us and making sure to identify areas of service and also trying to track their growth in the city,” Salinas said. “So we’re happy for what they’re doing and we invite others to follow their lead. I mean this really, really, is a great opportunity for everybody.”

When asked if Donna will be one of the first to receive 5G network services, Salinas said he was “pushing for it” and recommended it to his corporate office.