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Wisconsin Assembly passes 5G technology regulation bill

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Assembly has passed a bill that would limit the regulation of 5G, or “small cell,” technology.

The bill approved Tuesday now heads to Gov. Tony Evers for his consideration. The Senate passed the bill 25-5 earlier this month.

The proposal would set up a statewide regulatory framework for 5G networks, which promise to deliver the sorts of wireless speeds that are needed by new technologies such as autonomous vehicles and the “Internet of things.” Rather than large cell towers, 5G networks often 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.

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 most of its support from wireless companies  while being opposed by the cities of Milwaukee and Madison. Municipal groups such as the Wisconsin Towns Association have meanwhile remained neutral.

The bill sponsor, state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, a Republican from New Berlin, said Wisconsin has been at a disadvantage because neighboring states have already enacted similar laws.

Supporters are calling for quick action to get the technology in place, especially before Milwaukee hosts the Democratic National Convention next year. Opponents say the measure takes too much power away from local governments and doesn’t consider the technology’s possible health risks.

Nate Beck of The Daily Reporter contributed to this article.

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