June 1, 2017
“Municipalities repeatedly cut the head off the legislation and the wireless industry would bring it back from the dead. It came to be known as the Lazarus Bill,” said Rep. Marion O’Neill (R).
At one point, the bill’s language was removed from an omnibus appropriations act, because it was deemed too controversial. O’Neill stepped in and shepherded the legislation through 24 hours of negotiations during two weeks until the municipalities and the cable and wireless industries were either supportive or neutral. The bill was then reintroduced and passed by the House and Senate.
“We jumped through a lot of hoops to make sure this bill became law, for sure,” O’Neill said. “It was dead, I suppose, many times over.”
The League of Minnesota Cities had issues with the permitting process, the space between the cells and whether municipalities had the ability to reject permits. The organization ended up making 34 changes to the bill before it became neutral to its passage.
“It was not a workable piece of legislation when I took it on. We spent so much time making sure the bill worked everybody,” O’Neill said. “The cities wanted to have as much control of the permitting process as possible.”
The final bill sets fees for small cell attachments to municipal structures at $150 a year plus $25 for maintenance and a monthly fee for electricity use.
“Fees paid to collocate on municipal poles were always the most contentious part,” O’Neill said. “The negotiations really got stuck on the rental fee for quite a few hours. The cities wanted an exorbitant amount into the thousands of dollars.”
The bill also designates small cell deployment as a permitted use in public rights-of-way, except in areas zoned for single-family residential use and in historic districts, where a conditional use or special permit may be required. It establishes a 90-day shot clock for application approvals or denials and also prohibits moratoria on small cell deployment.
Consolidated permit applications are allowed for the collocation of up to 15 small wireless facilities, although the municipality may allow more. To be aggregated, the small cells must use similar equipment, be placed on similar support structures and be located within a two-mile radius. If applications for more than 30 small wireless facilities are received in a seven-day period, a municipality may extend the 90-day review period by 30 days.
The municipalities were aware that other states are enacting legislation and if Minnesota did not pass a small cell bill it could end up on the bottom of the list for technology advancement, according to O’Neill. But she was unsure how much that influenced them in negotiations.
“We needed the bill for the cellular companies to invest here, hundreds of millions of dollars of investment,” O’Neill said. “We want to see the wireless technology investment last beyond the Super Bowl of 2018 [in Minneapolis]. We want to make sure the technology spreads across the rural areas.”
Minnesota is one of nine states that have passed small cell legislation so far, including Iowa, Kansas, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Arizona and Colorado. Four more bills are working their way through the process in California, Missouri, Illinois and North Carolina.