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Evers signs new 5G wireless infrastructure rules into law

Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday signed a bill that advocates say could make it easier to build 5G wireless networks — a cutting-edge technology that has been slow to arrive in the state.

The new law, called Act 15, establishes a uniform set of rules for installing so-called small-cell nodes, which 5G wireless networks rely on to operate. Advocates of 5G say the wireless networks can deliver the kinds of Internet speeds needed to run autonomous vehicles and other new technologies. Instead of large cell towers, 5G networks are often made up of small-cell nodes that are connected to each other by fiber optic cables and placed on traffic lights and other public property.

Wireless companies say Wisconsin has largely missed out on 5G development because it has not adopted the sort of statewide network regulations that other states have. Among other things, the law Evers signed on Wednesday will cap how much municipalities can charge 5G developers to place small-cell nodes on public property, setting the maximum at $250 a year. It will also require local governments to respond to applications within 60 to 90 days.

“This is an important step for investing and updating our infrastructure that will pave the way for the next generation of connectivity across our state,” Evers said in a statement.

Although the bill drew support from wireless companies such as AT&T and Verizon and the International Union of Electrical Workers, the cities of Milwaukee and Madison came out in opposition. The League of Wisconsin Municipalities, meanwhile, remained neutral on the bill.

“Wisconsin’s new law will help facilitate the deployment of cutting-edge small cell wireless technology that will improve service for customers and help grow the state’s economy” said Jessica Erickson, director of public affairs for AT&T Wisconsin.

During a public hearing on the bill in May, Brenda Wood, a lobbyist for Milwaukee, said there were already more than 300 small-cell nodes installed in the city. That, she said, shows local officials can regulate the networks without the need for uniform statewide rules.

Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, the bill author, noted his legislation attracted support from lawmakers in both major parties.

“We did our due diligence,” he said. “It’s something that everybody benefit from. Milwaukee will benefit from it. It doesn’t matter if you have an R or a D next to your name, the consumer is demanding faster technology.”
Kuglitsch said Wisconsin has lagged behind other Midwestern states that have already adopted 5G wireless standards. The new law, he said, will help usher in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure spending and position Wisconsin for two events that will place the state in the global spotlight next year: the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee and the Ryder Cup golf tournament at Whistling Straits in Sheyboygan County.

Jay D. Allen, assistant business manager at Menomonee Falls-based IBEW local 2150, a chapter that represents telecommunications workers, said union members have been installing 5G infrastructure for the last year or so throughout the greater Milwaukee area. He said most 5G infrastructure has gone up in places that already have modern wireless infrastructure. The new bill, he said, could help bring small-cell nodes to more places throughout the state.

“It isn’t like you’re starting at Lake Michigan and moving west,” Allen said. “We’re seeing it where there’s already existing infrastructure to support it.”

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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