5G Compromise Bill Still a Hit to Local Government

A new bill would expedite placement of 5G infrastructure but limit state and local authority in negotiating application fees with mobile carriers.

A new bill would expedite placement of 5G infrastructure but limit state and local authority in negotiating application fees with mobile carriers. AP Photo

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Wireless industry groups support the new Senate bill, but the Institute for Local Self-Reliance argues it sacrifices too much local government authority.

A bipartisan Senate bill introduced in late June would expedite placement of 5G infrastructure but limit state and local authority in negotiating application fees with mobile carriers.

Already the proposed legislation has earned the praise of the wireless industry, with trade association CTIA stating S. 3157 “will help America win the global 5G race by accelerating deployment of next-generation wireless infrastructure while preserving local authority.”

But Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said the legislation is wrongheaded. He argued timely rollout of 5G, or fifth-generation wireless, technology will happen regardless of federal action, and carriers should agree to a fair price for using public rights of way.

“If we don’t immediately steamroll localities’ decision making, then we will miss out on new technology? If China deploys 5G more rapidly than us, then we’re going to lose?” Mitchell told Route Fifty. “China has more roads than us. China has more people than us.”

“I don’t see how we lose a single job if China has more 5G than we do,” he continued.

In reality, China achieving 5G first would likely mean the ironing out of kinks that will subsequently lower the cost of U.S. deployment, he said.

The Competitive Carriers Association, which represents smaller mobile providers mostly, also supports the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act proposed by U.S. Sens. John Thune, R-South Dakota, and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

“Small cells are not just for big cities, and this legislation will reduce barriers to broadband infrastructure deployment in rural areas as well as provide for the latest technologies to densify next generation networks,” said Steven Berry, CCA president and CEO, in a statement.

Berry called the time limits the bill would impose on governments—including a 60-day deadline for acting on requests to collocate equipment and a 90-day deadline for acting on all other carrier requests—“reasonable.”

The Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee proposed shorter time frames and less compensation for governments.

“If we have to see the federal government trample local rights, this is a better approach than the BDAC’s,” Mitchell said. “This bill is more of a compromise; the BDAC’s is more of a wishlist from the big carriers.”

Smaller municipalities, with less than 50,000 residents, would be allowed more time for decision-making. And the FCC would have the power to issue one-time, 30-day waivers to states and localities, although Mitchell questioned the commission’s ability to act quickly.

The bill would further make state and local governments charge application processing fees based on “actual and direct costs” for maintenance and inspections.

“Many policies that made sense for the deployment of large and intrusive infrastructure are unduly burdensome when applied to the much smaller equipment now coming online,” Thune said in the announcement. “The STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act reduces barriers to deployment while reaffirming the rights of states and localities to make decisions based on transparent, objective, and reasonable criteria.”

Schatz added the advent of 5G will “create millions of new jobs” while continuing U.S. global leadership.

But Mitchell countered that cities like Sacramento and San José in California have already reached sensible agreements with carriers that would no longer be possible if S. 3157 becomes law and gives the edge to the latter in negotiations.

He agreed providers have a right to predictable and transparent application processes across governments.

“We can do better,” Mitchell said. “I just don’t think this legislation moves us in that direction.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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