The Mobile Broadband Infrastructure Leads to Development (BILD) Act, HB 176, failed to come up for a vote in this session of the Georgia legislature, but Rep. Don Parsons (R-Marietta), the author, vows to continue working for the bill’s passage. First, he must overcome the opposition of the Georgia Municipal Association.
“We will address the city and county governments [concerning the bill] right after the session is over and make sure they have the factual information,” Parsons told AGL Bulletin.
The Georgia legislature is in the first year of a two-year session, so the bill doesn’t die. The bill goes back to committee until the next January when it will be reintroduced.
Parsons said the bill has had support among communities across Georgia that need wireless infrastructure to support economic development.
Negative response has come from three counties, out of 159. Awkwardly, one of the counties, Cobb, is Parson’s home county. A few cities, but the main opposition has come from the cities’ organization, the Georgia Municipal Association.
“HB 176 … would seriously impair the ability of local governments to protect the public from the siting and expansion of towers in locations that are not ideal, or even appropriate, for towers,” according to a GMA talking points paper.
Parsons has been frustrated by the reasoning behind GMA’s objections to HB 176, which he blames for the measure’s lack of progress
“You expect opposition to legislation based on the merits or lack of merits of a bill,” Parsons said. “Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misrepresentation of the facts by the Georgia Municipal Association. That is the sort of thing that makes it hard to get legislation through.”
GMA said the bill contains a false promise it will not adversely impact local control of the tower zoning.
“By limiting what zoning boards and local governments can consider, HB 176 would override the standards used by communities to determine whether a particular use is appropriate on that property and compatible with surrounding uses,” according to GMA. “While HB 176 says it would allow zoning to apply, it doesn’t. HB 176 is special treatment, not equal treatment.”
Parsons said that’s not true. He asserts the bill does not take away the municipalities’ local control.
“The exact same land use and zoning authority that exists now will be there after the bill is passed. It’s crazy stuff.” Parsons said. “[The GMA is] scaring people into thinking the cellular companies are going to come in and run everything.”
Parsons is skeptical of the motives of the municipalities, noting that they have a vested interest in drawing out lease negotiations city-owned property.
“The longer they can draw out the negotiation process, the more leverage they have to drive up the rental fee for their property,” Parsons.
Opposition also came from the County of Fulton, which has sent a resolution to the Georgia legislature stating that the legislation would take away its decision-making capability.
“HB 176 would eliminate the zoning protections cities currently have to regulate the size of existing towers. For instance, a small cell tower could be dramatically increased in height and width without any zoning oversight,” Fulton said. “HB 176 would prevent a city from imposing height limitations on a new tower. A city would not be permitted to request that the applicant build two lower towers rather than one higher tower.”
Parsons has already made changes in the bill to appease municipalities’ concerns. For example, he reluctantly removed a passage that would have required them negotiate a price [to lease the land] based on fair-market value.
Parsons also noted that the public needs education about importance of cell towers to the ability of smart phones to work.
“One person testified [before the legislature] that they thought a carrier wanted to build a cell tower in a neighborhood that already had ample coverage,” Parsons said. “She was laughed out of the meeting because everyone knows that just because you have four bars does mean the system has the capacity to handle the data demands that everyone has.
“To say that a cellular company would come in and make a huge expenditure for no reason doesn’t make any sense,” he added.
The Georgia Wireless Association, which supported the bill, said it was disappointed that the Mobile BILD Act stalled in the committee process.
“It was a measured bill that struck the right balance between municipal zoning authority and the rapid and efficient deployment of the wireless infrastructure that Georgians demand,” Kimberly Adams, GWA regulatory co-chair, said in a prepared statement. “Georgia has missed a critical opportunity to advance the pace of innovation throughout the state.”