Many Towns complain that it it would undercut their zoning powers.
Pennsylvania lawmakers canceled a vote Tuesday on proposed legislation that would make it easier and cheaper for wireless carriers to blanket cities, towns, and rural areas with thousands of small cell antennas on utility poles for 4G and next-generation 5G wireless services. It was the third defeat for the Verizon- and AT&T-backed legislation.
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Municipal officials and unions said they weren’t consulted on the bill, sponsored by Rep. Frank Farry (R., Langhorne).
Initially scheduled for Monday in the House Consumer Affairs Committee, Republican leaders delayed the vote until Tuesday and then canceled it altogether in the face of strong opposition.
Rep. Brad Roae (R., Erie), head of the committee, said Tuesday that 4G/5G desnification would be considered again in the fall and that Pennsylvania residents want faster wireless services and related economic development that comes with small cell antennas for broader 4G coverage and 5G data services. Municipal officials want to charge market rate fees to the wireless carriers to install these small cell antennas, Roae said.
A committee official said that lawmakers were flooded with calls and emails from municipal officials expressing concerns over the weekend, leading to the delayed and then canceled votes. The Pennsylvania Municipal League, the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, and the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Commissioners wrote to the Consumer Affairs Committee on June 13 that the proposed legislation doesn’t solve the lack of rural broadband access — a big political issue statewide — even as it undercuts their local zoning powers.
“When considered in concert, these provisions of the bill render local zoning control useless, as municipalities are not permitted to review applications for compliance with zoning regulations or deny proposed facilities for not meeting zoning requirements,” the letter said.
The proposed legislation also would set lower fees than what the Federal Communications Commission mandated in new national rules on small cells in 2018. Others questioned why Pennsylvania needs a new law when the FCC September 2018 Order to Streamline so-called "Small Cell" antennas on city blocks and residential neighborhoods, FCC 18-133 that is being challenged in the courts.
Experts say that wireless carriers, or infrastructure companies, could install as many 800,000 to a million additional small cell antennas in the United State over the next decade. The small cell antennas are expected to boost 4G wireless coverage for smart phones and launch 5G services for fast data connections. Philadelphia has already installed about 1,800 of these so-called small cells.
Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, said that the proposed legislation lacks safety precautions as to how the small cell antennas will be placed on utility poles. “Some of our concern is that their contractors are not well-trained,” Bloomingdale said of the contractors who will install the small cell antennas.