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Posted on: March 7, 2019

Preserve Local Authority to Manage Small 5G Cellular Tower Infrastructure

The sole legislative priority for 2019 adopted by the Maryland Municipal League (MML) is the preservation of local authority over the siting and aesthetics of small cellular tower infrastructure.

The FCC recently adopted and implemented an Order that preempts local governments in several areas of the small cell field, primarily: places a cap on application fees as well as right-of-way access and pole attachment charges; and shortens the time which a small cell application must be processed, aka “shot clocks.”

During the 2018 General Assembly session SB 1188/HB 1767 was introduced on behalf of the wireless communications industry that sought to streamline and make uniform the local permitting and installation of small cell facilities.

In reality, the bill preempted local governments in almost every aspect including important safety and aesthetic components such as zoning and right-of-way access.

This legislation will be reintroduced by the wireless industry in 2019 in almost the exact same format.

During the 2018 interim, MML, along with the Maryland Association of Counties and Baltimore City, worked with wireless industry representatives in good faith discussions to seek a Maryland path forward on small cells. Despite everyone’s best efforts, agreement was never reached between the parties on almost all key points.

MML has joined a “Community Coalition,” which includes the Maryland Association of Counties and other stakeholders to introduce legislation that will include the following key components:

Allows State and local governments to utilize their zoning and permitting process, including public hearings, to determine the best location for 5G infrastructure.

Allows State and local governments to control what goes in their rights-of-way and controls who has access to these areas, both in urban and residential areas.

Upholds the FCC’s fee schedule, with the ability to exceed fees if justifiable.

Creates a new fund to assist in the deployment of wireless technology in the rural, undeserved areas of the State.

Does not codify the FCC Order as there may still be changes to the Order at the Federal level based on pending federal lawsuits and legislation.

It’s important to note that, as municipal officials, we ARE NOT attempting to block the expansion of wireless technology in our cities and towns. Rather, we would like to partner with the wireless industry so that the end result is based on our existing land use procedures with input from our residents who will be impacted by this infrastructure for years to come.

As elected officials, it is our duty to speak on behalf of our residents and uphold existing rules and guidelines in our cities and towns.

The “Community Coalition” legislation will accomplish this and will still allow for the expansion of wireless technology to 5G.

We urge legislators to support the “Community Coalition” legislation when it is introduced.

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