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Published on Monday, May 22, 2017

New small cell bill introduced

As we have been reporting since last December, a coalition of some telecommunications providers has been working to move legislation aimed at advancing the deployment of new telecommunications technology that relies upon small cell networks. Unfortunately, the path they chose was to introduce a bill (SB 5711) that contained sweeping preemption of cities’ current authority to manage the public rights-of-way, set appropriate fees to cover costs, and adopt permitting processes that accommodate installation of new telecommunications facilities while addressing community concerns.

When that bill encountered strong opposition from cities and Public Utility Districts (PUDs) we were asked to bring forward our own proposal. In the meantime, the Governor’s office became more involved in the issue as they are seeking ways to expand broadband access for underserved areas. They asked us to continue working with the telecommunications providers to see if we find common ground and keep a bill moving. Those conversations have been happening for a couple of months now. Based on those ongoing discussions and input from cities and others, Senators Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) and Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) introduced SB 5935. The bill does not represent a consensus from the group but offers an alternative to SB 5711, an alternative that is much better for cities.

Recognizing that small cell facilities are coming to cities around the state for use during emergencies and as a new service offered by wireless companies, SB 5935 would require cities with population above 5,000 to adopt a small cell facility ordinance establishing a process for deployment of this infrastructure. Unlike SB 5711 this bill would give each individual city more flexibility to adopt an ordinance that would fit their own needs. Cities over 20,000 in population would need to have an ordinance in place by nine months after the effective date of the bill, and cities with a population between 5,000 and 20,000, 12 months after the effective date.

Given the clear lack of consensus amongst legislators on the best approach to this issue, it is unclear whether any of the telecommunications bills will be able to pass. Any that move forward will still need some changes, including SB 5395. No matter what happens, it seems clear that new telecommunications technology is going to be deployed over the next several years and cities can begin planning now to get ready for it.

Categories: Telecommunications
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