House Energy Committee Passes Small Cell Legislation

Posted on October 5, 2018 by Dene Westbrook

Across the country the telecommunications industry has been pursuing legislation to streamline the deployment of small cell technology. Small cells are low-powered antenna nodes that are installed to relieve congestion for wireless users. The term “small” refers to the footprint of the device but they typically are installed on their own or an existing utility or street light pole. In November of last year, Senate Bill 637 was introduced on behalf of the Industry and the League opposed the legislation. While we don’t oppose the advancement of technology, we do want to make sure the deployment of that technology is done in a fair and balanced way.

As introduced, SB 637 had bipartisan support and likely the votes necessary to pass both chambers. It would have provided nearly free and unfettered access for the deployment of small cells both inside and outside of the right-of-way. Since introduction the League’s advocacy team has been negotiating with the Industry and the sponsor to protect municipal interests. Over the course of the negotiation, the League has worked with our members and outside counsel to identify key areas of concerns and successfully addressed many of those areas. By addressing those key areas, we switched our position from opposed to neutral to preserve the protections we fought for to be included. Had we not gone neutral, we would have run the risk that many of those key additions to the legislation would have strip out. Below is a list of key items we successfully advocated to be strengthened or included that were not in the original version of the bill.

  • Hard cap on the height of utility poles at 40 feet within the right-of-way. A pole higher than 40 feet in the right-of-way or any pole outside the right-of-way would need to go through zoning.
  • Separated the installation of new utility poles from the attachment to or replacement of existing utility poles.
  • Created a rate structure that charges more for a new utility pole to incentivize using existing infrastructure.
  • Rates and fees are more than double when compared to the introduced version.
  • Includes a CPI factor for fees and rates.
  • Prioritizes the use of existing infrastructure.
  • Ensures that any installation cannot be done on a speculative basis and the industry needs to make the facility operational.
  • Grandfathers in agreements where facilities have been installed and are operational.
  • Protects areas where the under-grounding of utilities has happened or will happen.
  • Protects historic districts.
  • Allows for concealment measure in historic districts, downtown districts and residential districts.
  • Extended time-frames to approve/deny the application.
  • Strengthens denial provisions.
  • Provides the ability to revoke a permit.
  • Allows a municipality to suggest an alternative location for the deployment of a small cell.
  • Requires a wireless to provide notice that the small cell is no longer operational and then remove that facility within 45 days.
  • Allows for bonding to ensure payment, repair of the ROW and removal of abandoned infrastructure.
  • Allows for insurance and indemnification.
  • Ensures our ability to hire outside consultants for make-ready work and charge actual cost for those services.
  • Requires all small cell facilities to be labeled with an emergency contact number and information to identify the small cell and its location

The introduced version would have left  Michigan with the lowest rates and fees in the Midwest, but the version that passed out of House committee this week by a 15-4 vote has more than doubled every fee and rate throughout the bill. While the revenue component of this bill puts us on par with many in the Midwest and across the country, we believe the policy within the bill, when compared to our neighboring states and others who have faced similar legislative efforts from the wireless industry, is among the best.

We have had many partners along the way on this bill and a Chairman, Senator Nofs, who has been very helpful and open to addressing many of our key priorities. The House will likely vote on this issue before the end of the year.

John LaMacchia is the Assistant Director of State and Federal Affairs for the League handling transportation, infrastructure, energy and environment issues. He can be reached at [email protected] or 517-908-0303.

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