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Lawmakers move to set statewide standards for 5G wireless development

By: Nate Beck//May 28, 2019//

Lawmakers move to set statewide standards for 5G wireless development

By: Nate Beck//May 28, 2019//

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cellWisconsin lawmakers are moving to set uniform rules to govern the roll out of cutting-edge 5G wireless technology in the state, a step proponents say would undo a hodgepodge system that has prevented new wireless development.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 234, would bring Wisconsin law in-line with an order the Federal Communications Commission issued last fall to, among other things, cap the amounts local governments can charge in return for allowing wireless technology to be installed on public property. Throughout the country, companies like Verizon, ATT and Sprint are now deploying technology needed to support fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless networks, which promise faster wireless speeds.

Wisconsin in many ways is trying to catch up.

Every state that it borders — along with Indiana, Ohio and Kansas — already has consistent rules in place governing how wireless companies can deploy small-cell systems.

As long as Wisconsin has local rules that vary widely from place to place, wireless companies will be wary about bringing new technology to this state, said Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, an author of AB 234. Setting consistent rules for 5G development could usher in “hundreds of millions of dollars” in new wireless development, he said.

“Wisconsin is the hole in the donut,” Kuglitsch said. “Our neighbors have all passed similar legislation that creates a consistent ability for wireless companies to invest.”

Kuglitsch’s bill is similar to a proposal he put forward in 2017 only to see it die in the state Senate. His latest legislation, which was introduced on Friday, is scheduled for public hearings in Assembly and Senate committees on Wednesday.

If passed, the proposal would set broad limits on local governments’ ability to regulate how and where wireless companies can install small-cell 5G connections. In line with the FCC’s recent rules, it would cap at $250 a year what local governments can charge wireless providers in return for allowing 5G equipment to be installed on public property. 5G networks run on so-called “small cell” nodes that are connected by fiber optic cable and installed on things like traffic lights and utility poles instead of cell towers.

Municipalities could impose these sorts of fees only if they did so in a “nondiscriminatory” way, meaning they would charge all entities the same amounts for the use of public right of way. The same set of provisions would bar local governments from entering into agreements granting particular companies exclusive rights to develop 5G infrastructure.

At the same time, local governments could require companies to repair damage caused by small-cell installations and would be shielded from wireless companies’ lawsuits if property damage, injuries or other harm were to follow the development of new wireless infrastructure. Municipalities would also be able to set some aesthetic requirements for small-cell nodes and place stricter standards on proposed developments in historic districts.

Separately, the same bill would require local governments to approve installation permits within 60 to 90 days of receiving them. If local governments fail to respond, an application would be automatically approved.

Some municipalities have argued these sorts of restrictions chip away at local control. When Kuglitsch put forward a similar proposal 2017, he drew opposition from Madison and Milwaukee, as well as various other groups that lobby for local governments.

Wireless developers, meanwhile, argue that they are sometimes faced with exorbitant charges. In a memo dated March 2018 and sent to the FCC, an attorney for the Arkansas-based wireless developer Uniti Fiber said his company was hit with approximately $15,500 in fees when it sought to install a single small-cell node in downtown Milwaukee.

Kuglitsch said local governments haven’t yet come out against his latest proposal. Groups such as the League of Wisconsin municipalities, which didn’t return a message seeking comment by press time Tuesday, have instead agreed to remain neutral on it. Meanwhile, wireless companies like AT&T, U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile have all registered in favor of the bill, according to Wisconsin Ethics Commission data.

Scott VanderSanden, president of AT&T Wisconsin, said Wisconsin’s inconsistent rules have so far prevented wireless providers from spending much on 5G infrastructure. For that reason, Wisconsin cities are falling behind other places in the Midwest.

If Kuglitsch’s bill were adopted, VanderSanden said, AT&T would probably move quickly to bring 5G to Wisconsin, starting in Milwaukee.

“(The bill) is a very helpful step in getting these wireless networks developed,” VanderSanden said.


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