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Committee advances bill to have uniform rules for 5G networks

By: Nate Beck//June 4, 2019//

Committee advances bill to have uniform rules for 5G networks

By: Nate Beck//June 4, 2019//

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A bill meant to bring Wisconsin’s regulations for developing 5G wireless networks in line with those found in neighboring states is on its way to the full state Legislature.

Assembly Bill 234 — which would place limits on what sorts of rules municipalities can set on the deployment of fifth-generation, or 5G, networks — received a favorable recommendation from the state Assembly’s Committee on Jobs on the Economy in a 13 to 1 vote on Tuesday. Proponents contend the legislation, if passed by the full Legislature and signed by the governor, would bring Wisconsin in line with other Midwestern states that have already passed similar laws and could lead to hundreds of millions in new wireless spending in the state.

5G wireless systems promise to deliver the sorts of wireless speeds that are needed by new technologies such as autonomous vehicles. Instead of running off large cell towers, 5G networks rely on so-called small-cell nodes, which are connected by fiber optic cables and placed on traffic lights and other public property. Wireless companies say Wisconsin suffers from a patchwork of local rules governing 5G systems. The resulting lack of consistency, they argue, has hindered 5G development.

“This technology will change the way that we live work and play,” Melia Carter, director of government affairs for Verizon Wireless, said at a separate committee hearing on the bill last week. “This bill will pave the way for those investments in the future.”

Among other things, AB 234 would cap how much municipalities can charge 5G developers for permission to install small-cell nodes on utility poles and other public property. The limit would be set at $250 a year.

Separately, it would constrain local governments’ ability to block the development of small-cell infrastructure, mandating that officials approve or reject 5G permits within 60 to 90 days of receiving them. It would also grant certain companies exclusive rights to develop new wireless technology and establish a state committee to study questions related to acceptable uses of public right of way.

Local governments, however, could still require wireless companies to repair damage caused by small-cell installations and would be protected from lawsuits brought by these companies if property damage, injuries or other harm were to result from an installation project. Governments would also be able to propose alternate locations for small-cell nodes and set aesthetic requirements and stricter standards at times when wireless companies were planning to install 5G networks in historic districts.

The legislation has drawn both support from wireless companies  and opposition from the cities of Milwaukee and Madison. Municipal groups such as the Wisconsin Towns Association have meanwhile remained neutral.

In 2017, state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, a Republican from New Berlin, put forward a similar bill only to see it die in the state Senate after passing the Assembly. This time around, he said, he has tried to bring his proposal in line with recently adopted Federal Communications Commission guidelines.

Speaking last week at a public hearing, Kuglitsch said: “We hope that the committee sees that this is actually a new and improved bill.”


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