Small Cell Wireless Deployment Provision Removed from House Jobs Bill

A bill that would severely limit local authority to manage small cell technology is no longer moving in the House or Senate.
(Published Apr 3, 2017)

HF 739 (Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska)—a bill that would restrict local authority to regulate companies seeking to install small cell wireless technology in the public right of way—was removed from the House jobs bill by the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee last week.

The small cell wireless language had been included in the jobs bill, authored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), earlier in March. However, it was removed via an amendment offered by Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar). The amendment was supported by a majority of committee members after a voice vote on March 28.

The House author requested that the language be held back until stakeholders come to an agreement. The Senate version, SF 561 (Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound), did not meet a key legislative deadline and has not moved forward.

Bill sought to bypass city zoning
The original bill would have allowed 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 would have prevented cities from negotiating rates, permit timelines, and maintenance as it relates to the installation of emerging wireless infrastructure.

After several rounds of negotiations facilitated by the Senate author, wireless providers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile) decided to halt discussions with cities and cable companies a few weeks ago. The League offered alternative bill language that included amendments to the current right-of-way management law and would work within existing law to ensure wireless companies enjoy the same rights and privileges afforded to other users in the public rights of way. It would incorporate wireless providers into current law while retaining local decision-making.

Alternative language
The League is grateful to Sen. Osmek for his time facilitating negotiations, and to Rep. Hoppe for his willingness to hear the municipal perspective to work toward agreeable language. The League will continue to work with them to emphasize the critical role local governments play 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 offered to the providers:

  • 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 cell wireless technology.
  • Outlines a 60-day time frame for cities to provide answers on small cell applications, along with an application cap, to ensure efficient access and speed to market.
  • 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 already occurring 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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