Utilities and municipalities large and small are pushing back against CTIA and Wireless Infrastructure Association proposals asking for clarifications of FCC tower and small cell siting rules. Thursday, Inside Towers reported American Tower and Crown Castle favor the changes, telling the Commission the ways localities and utilities drag their feet in approving wireless infrastructure siting applications.
The Edison Electric Institute, Utilities Technology Council and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association tell the FCC it cannot expand Section 224 to include light poles, because they are not “poles” as defined by that section.
Access to light poles is not a barrier for 5G and regulation would violate private property interests and distort the robust free market that currently exists for wireless infrastructure siting, according to the utility associations.
“Utility association members not only have provided access to pole infrastructure – they also have voluntarily developed innovative attachment solutions that enable communications service providers to access a broader selection of utility-owned poles, at a reasonable, market-based rate,” say the utility associations. “For these types of solutions to thrive, however, it is vital that utility pole owners continue to have exclusive discretion to resolve all questions of safety, reliability, and engineering, and continue to be compensated fairly for pole access, and the related services that they provide.”
The request, they say, would be a disincentive for utilities to voluntarily provide many benefits and services that the Commission’s rules do not explicitly require. They urged the Commission to reject the CTIA petition, stating it fails to demonstrate that any current practice of utility pole owners is unjust, unreasonable, or discriminatory. “The petition provides no evidence that utility pole owners possess monopoly power with respect to light poles, or are positioned to assert any leverage that would result in unreasonable rates, terms, or conditions for access to light poles,” the associations emphasize.
The petition goes way beyond clarifications of Section 6409(a), say the National League of Cities; 18 cities; four counties; plus the Michigan Coalition to Protect Public Rights-Of-Way; the Texas Municipal League; and the Texas Coalition of Cities for Utility Issues. According to them, Section 6409(a) was adopted to allow minor modifications and expansions to existing sites previously approved through discretionary land use and zoning processes. It was not meant to allow installation of equipment in locations never previously approved for wireless use, nor to short-circuit the ability of localities to protect the aesthetics of their communities.
“Section 6409(a) was not meant to entitle applicants to evade payment of fees, to start shot clocks without actually submitting applications, or to begin construction without actually receiving permits,” assert the cities and counties.
They say there’s no need to change the rules. The fact that an application falls outside of Section 6409(a) does not mean that it will face significant delays or be denied. “[S]uch changes could cause delays, because techniques that communities and carriers are using to minimize impacts and to obtain approvals in areas where wireless providers are installing facilities entirely inconsistent with those installed by other utilities – authorizing carefully designed and placed monopoles; installing structures that include street lighting and that if not completely “stealth” are nonetheless designed to fit in with the surrounding environments, for example – may no longer be enforceable,” the cities and counties state. “The record shows that the impact of installing out-of-place facilities can be a reduction in property values, the effect will be to heighten opposition to deployment, and reverse important strides now being made in designing wireless facilities,” say the cities and counties.
The Coalition of Concerned Utilities, comprised of nine utilities, emphasizes that streetlight-only poles are not part of the wireless distribution network. “Accommodating wireless attachment installations on streetlight-only poles is expensive, complicated, and time consuming, and requires the dedication of considerable utility resources, which can occur only in an unregulated environment,” they assert.
“Many utilities, including many Coalition members, are willing to make a commitment because the current unregulated environment allows the parties to work through the numerous delays and operating challenges, allows utilities to staff up when possible to address these challenges, and creates incentives for utility pole owners to undertake the extraordinary effort and expense required to accommodate such installations.” Such incentives would disappear with Commission regulation, they claim.
by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
November 1, 2019
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