Negotiations Stall with Wireless Providers on Small Cell Deployment Bill

Although wireless providers walked away from talks, the League is still working with bill authors to include language that protects local control of small cell deployment decisions.
(Published Mar 20, 2017)

A bill that would severely limit local authority to manage small cell technology is no longer moving in the Senate, but still making progress on the House side. SF 561 (Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound) did not make a key deadline in the Senate, while HF 739 (Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska) received a hearing.

After several rounds of negotiations facilitated by the Senate author, wireless providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) decided to halt discussions with cities and cable companies last week. However, the League is still working with legislators to include language that protects local control of small cell deployment decisions.

The League offered alternative bill language that included amendments to the current right-of-way management law and works within existing law to ensure wireless companies enjoy the same rights and privileges afforded to other users in the public rights of way. It incorporates wireless providers into current law while retaining local decision-making.

The original bill would allow small cell wireless equipment to be placed on utility poles, signs, kiosks, traffic signals, light poles, or arches without the ability of a city to adequately apply its zoning authority. Additionally, it prevents cities from negotiating rates, permit timelines, and maintenance as it relates to the installation of emerging wireless infrastructure.

Status of the legislation
SF 561 did not receive a hearing in the Senate Local Government Committee last week, which means it failed to meet a key legislative deadline and will not move forward.

However, the bill is still moving on the house side, as HF 739 received a hearing on March 15 in the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee. It will be considered for possible inclusion in a larger jobs bill that is slated to be put together this week. The League met with the committee chair, Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), to go over our preferred language and provisions with city support.

Work toward agreeable language continues
The League is grateful to Sen. Osmek for his time facilitating negotiations, and to Reps. Hoppe and Garofalo for their willingness to hear the municipal perspective to work toward agreeable language. The League will continue to work with them to emphasize that any final bill should ensure local governments continue to manage public assets through zoning, and should allow cities to protect their proprietary interests in public property in the public right of way.

To summarize, the League’s alternative bill language:

  • Streamlines amendments to existing Minnesota law that has worked for 20 years, which many other states don’t have, and clearly states that the law applies to small cells.
  • Does not create a whole new administrative process for cities that is also likely to be construed as giving a competitive advantage to a particular industry.
  • Emphasizes that one size doesn’t fit all and, therefore, cities should be able to continue to make decisions about small cell deployment on a case-by-case basis.
  • Continues the deployment of small cell technology in the public right of way that is occurring right now by cooperating with cities.
  • Protects taxpayers from picking up unanticipated expenses from companies using public assets and doesn’t undercut what residents could earn from private placement.

Additional resource
The League has an information memo that provides guidance for dealing with cell towers and small cell technologies.

For more background information about this topic, read a previous Bulletin article.

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