March 21, 2017 —
This is the second in a two-part series covering comments in the FCC proceeding “Streamlining Deployment of Small Cell Infrastructure by Improving Wireless Facilities Siting Policies; Mobilitie Petition for Declaratory Ruling (WT Docket No. 16-421).” Last Thursday, we looked at the wireless point of view and today we will track the opinions of municipalities, as filed with the FCC.
Municipalities countered the frustration of the wireless industry over confusing small cell applications process with a gripe of their own: deceptive practices, in comments filed with the FCC. If an applicant is representing the wireless industry, the municipalities said they would rather it didn’t use the dba of a utility-sounding company. The municipalities also denied charges that they are discriminating against the carriers by delaying applications and charging “excessive” fees. In fact, they pointed to instances where they thought the wireless industry caused delays itself.
A group led by the National League of Cities, which included the National Association of Telecommunications Officers, said the unique characteristics of each municipality make management of the public ROW best handled by local government.
“It is impossible that a one-size-fits-all regulatory scheme can adequately take into account the various needs and interests of all communities across the nation,” the group wrote.
The municipalities asserted that they understand the importance of wireless to the safety and economic future of their areas.
“[Municipalities] are keenly aware that high speed broadband service is a key to economic development and a critical tool for academic progress,” wrote a group of commenters headed by the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. “In order to facilitate the new wave of 5G technology, the Commenters recognize that new and/or improved wireless infrastructure is both necessary and welcome in their communities.”
When it came to complaints of excessive and applications fees and rights-of-way access charges, the municipalities took great umbrage.
“The Bureau throws in unsubstantiated allegations of permitting and zoning delays and high fees and excessive charges resulting in applicants having to ‘contend with a long and costly process,’” the League of Cities et.al. wrote.
A group of organizations representing western cities and counties, led by the Telecom Law Firm and the City of Pasadena, California, wrote that the limitations proposed by Mobilitie ignore the property interest shared by the State and local governments in the public ROW and on government-owned poles, which goes outside of the regulatory relationship between local governments and wireless carriers. And the proprietary interest differs by the state.
“While a “$10,800 annual per-pole fee” may exceed the additional costs imposed on the government in its regulatory capacity to permit and monitor the installation, such fees are proprietary fees that compensate local government for allowing the use of its property,” wrote City of Pasadena et. al.
Municipalities Have Pointed Words for Mobilitie
The proposed limitations on local ROW authority were based on the “erroneous” assumption the carriers are not part of the problem, according to City of Pasadena, et.al. It singled out Mobilitie as one that had injured the carrier-municipality relationship.
“Significant delays in small cell deployment have arisen from applicant misrepresentations and misconduct,” the group wrote. “Even wireless industry members publicly acknowledge that aggressive and deceptive tactics by applicants, in particular those employed by Mobilitie, are among the primary impediments to deployment.”
Other municipalities singled out Mobilitie, as well, writing of its incomplete applications and poor construction practices.
“Mobilitie’s actions across the nation [have] started to get attention from other [wireless] providers, concerned that their own deployment efforts could be hindered by the poster child’s actions,” the National League of Cities et. al. wrote.
The Virginia Dept. of Transportation reported that of the 500 small cells Mobilitie had applied for, 400 of them only supplied latitude and longitude information and therefore were not even considered to be applications.
A group of municipal organizations based in Colorado and Washington state noted that Mobilitie has taken steps to better cooperate with municipalities, but it still discussed tactics used early on by the company, which caused delays and bad feelings with many municipalities.
“Mobilitie created multiple subsidiaries with misleading names which made it look like it brought prior state or federal approval to its siting applications. These entities had names like Colorado Exchange Facilities Network, LLC and Interstate Transport and Broadband. Mobilitie represented to local jurisdictions, in writing, that they were a regulated public utility, yet they had no certificated authority from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission as such,” the Colorado/Washington state municipalities wrote.
Cooperation not Regulation
A better route than increased government regulation would be more cooperation between the wireless industry and municipalities, according to the League of Cities filing.
The League of Cities et. al. said that it requested to the FCC the wireless industry and government representatives meet to resolve issues surrounding delays in deployment in 2014.
As an example of grass roots cooperation, the municipalities cited the City of San Antonio, which entered in a master license agreement with Verizon giving the carrier access to rights-of-way and to attach to certain city structures for an agreed-upon fee schedule.
“The city found that this proactive agreement allowed Verizon to increase its coverage and reliability, benefiting both the company and resident customers, and allowed the city to retain its land-use authority and unique historical aesthetic.
The League of Cities et. al. also pointed to a master ROW license agreement developed between Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and Mobilitie in January of this year, which was designed to balance protection of the local ROW and the needs of the wireless industry.
“The end result is a template or model agreement that can be tailored to the unique circumstances of each city,” GMA wrote. “The agreement imposes reasonable safeguards on the placement and maintenance of wireless equipment and facilities in the ROW, while also addressing reasonable compensation to be paid by Mobilitie for its use of the ROW.”