Minnesota Utilities Warn Mobilitie About Misrepresentation

Inside Towers has been covering the efforts of some wireless companies to site shorter towers in public rights-of-way as a way of expediting the permitting process. Some jurisdictions, like Connecticut, are beefing up their tower siting rules to make them more stringent while others, like Kansas, have tried to speed up the deployment process.

However, some are asking if shortcuts are being taken. Minnesota Utility regulators have sent a letter to Mobilitie asking that it stop asserting it has the authority from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) exempting it from local regulations in public rights-of-way.

If the action does not stop, the state “will pursue whatever remedies it may have available to it under Minnesota law,” reads a letter from the Minnesota Department of Commerce obtained by Inside Towers. The MDOC says it’s received “numerous” complaints from municipalities who say Mobilitie representatives tell them the company “holds a certificate of authority issued by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to provide telecommunications service.” Mobilitie does hold a certificate of authority to “provide local niche service,” and the company’s application is pending, but that does not give the company “an exemption from the requirements of the local government rules,” according to MDOC.  

In a related case, a source tells us Mobilitie has recently installed eight cell towers in Virginia’s Prince William County. Each is about 50 feet tall and includes large equipment cabinets at the base of the structure.

Nearly all of them are located within the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) rights-of-way. Mobilitie has obtained land use permits from VDOT for each that allow Mobilitie to “temporarily install and maintain a freestanding utility pole and temporary battery boxes until a permanent power source is installed and documentation is provided by Prince William County allowing poles to remain in place.”

To date, the company has not submitted any applications to the Prince William County Planning or Zoning Staff that would authorize these facilities to remain in place.  The county has sent the company notices of violations about the unauthorized installs. Mobilitie is set to appear before the PWC Board of Zoning later this month to challenge the violations and requirement to submit the requisite applications.

Meanwhile, VTdigger.org reports that in Bennington, Vermont, Mobilitie’s regional permitting manager, Jennille Smith, told the local planning commission recently the company is approaching community leaders in every state with the goal of erecting some 70,000 wireless cell towers to meet growing wireless demand. The company wants to reach agreements with towns directly and not go through state Public Service Boards seeking siting permits.

“Our business model is to be in the public rights-of-way,” she said, “and we are asserting ourselves as a public utility.” Utility poles are placed on public rights-of-way under direct agreements with communities, according to Smith.

The company has already scouted potential tower siting locations, but intends to work with communities to find alternative sites. There needs to be a clear line-of-sight in all directions from the pole and the site must meet the power needs, according to the account.

Mobilitie is trying to site a 120-foot tower in Bennington; more than one carrier would lease space on the tower. City planners object to the pole blocking the view from a battle monument. However, acknowledging they want residents to experience faster internet speeds and better WiFi, they said they would try to find a suitable alternative location.  

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