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14 May 2017

Minnesota: Contact Your Legislators: Small Cell Wireless Bill Pre-empting Local Control Is Gaining Traction

There is growing concern of cities across the United States that legislation regarding deployment of new technology by municipal utilities, wireless providers etc. may pre-empt or undermine the ability of local officials to determine what health, safety, and welfare regulations best serve their community.

Contact Your Legislators: Small Cell Wireless Bill Pre-empting Local Control Is Gaining Traction
League of Minnesota Cities, 8 May 2017

The wireless industry has renewed its strong effort to get legislation passed that minimizes local authority and the ability of cities to negotiate agreements that work for each community.

Over the last two weeks, Rep. Marion O’Neill (R-Maple Lake) has convened several meetings with cities, municipal utilities, wireless providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint) and cable representatives to negotiate SF 561, a bill that would allow small cell wireless equipment to be placed on city-owned infrastructure in the public right of way. Additionally, the bill prevents cities from negotiating rates, permit timelines, and maintenance as it relates to the installation of emerging wireless infrastructure.

The League has stated that cities want to be a partner in the deployment of new technology, but legislation should not pre-empt or undermine the ability of local officials to determine what health, safety, and welfare regulations best serve their community. There is a strong concern that the bill will be logrolled into an omnibus bill without an agreement on key issues.

Notably, the industry wants to manage the entire market of these installations in the public right-of-way by capping lease rates at $150 per year per site. This would result in cities subsidizing the wireless industry. While cities could recoup some of their initial costs of the installation, setting a low flat rate would not allow cities to adequately negotiate a lease rate that covers future anticipated and unanticipated costs associated with this technology on city-owned property.

League compromises

The League has compromised on several provisions with the wireless carriers over the last few months, including:
  • Integrating wireless providers as telecommunications right-of-way users.
  • Implementing a 90-day time line for approval or denial with a ceiling on the number of applications at one time.
  • Prohibiting cities from implementing a moratorium on small cell installations.
  • Providing time for an applicant to cure an application if there is missing or complete information.
  • Providing written notice of denial and reason for denial.

League concerns

The League is asking city officials to contact their legislators to emphasize that this bill should move forward only with an agreement among the stakeholders. Ask legislators to oppose any legislation being pushed without an agreement. The League is concerned that the bill being discussed right now:
  • Is likely to be construed as giving a competitive advantage to a particular industry or type of technology.
  • Decreases the amount of control local government has over siting of equipment in their rights of way or on structures in their rights of way.
  • Regulates either the fees associated with applications to place wireless facilities or the rents it must pay to use public property, or both.
  • Does not protect taxpayers from picking up unanticipated expenses from companies using public assets, and forces cities to subsidize the wireless industry.
  • Contains neither regulations for the wireless companies, particularly regarding deployment in areas not currently served, nor any caps to their rates.

Any final agreement should ensure local control for managing the public right of way, and allow for providers to pay fair market value to avoid imposing risk on local communities and their citizens.

Additional resource

The League has an information memo that provides guidance for dealing with cell towers and small cell technologies.
Download the memo: Cell Towers, Small Cell Technologies & Distributed Antenna Systems (pdf)

For more background information about this topic, read a previous Bulletin article.

Read the current issue of the Cities Bulletin

http://www.lmc.org/page/1/smallcellwirelessupdate.jsp

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