Mobilitie Has Sites Approved by VA DOT Then Denied by County

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Eight sites into an aggressive build-out schedule approved by the state Department of Transportation (DOT), Mobilite has hit a stumbling block. Prince William County said the pole attachments went up without their permission. The resulting litigation could prove to be a test case for how communications infrastructure could be placed across the commonwealth, according to WTOP.

Prince William County Senior Assistant County Attorney Curt Spear said the company is looking to build small-scale antennae across the country on new or existing telephone or light poles. While the company got tentative permission from the Virginia Department of Transportation to put some of these along Prince William County roads that are run by the state, it was contingent on local approvals. The county said those were never given to the carrier.

An order to take down the antennae resulted in an appeal. Spear told WTOP Mobilitie is now asking other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, such as Arlington County and Purcellville, for permission before installing any equipment.  

One county supervisor cited unfair advantages given to the carrier. “I’ve actually got a big problem with just the way that this has happened,” he told WTOP. “We put traditional cell phone tower companies through their paces when putting up cell phone towers, and we should, and then they circumvented, I think, our rules by just having these pop up all over the county which, in one respect, puts them at a competitive advantage to all of their competitors.”

Mobilite claims it is a state-certified phone service provider and therefore eligible to use public right-of-way.

“We disagree with their reading of that statute, but that’s a novel issue that has not arisen before. It would not arise in the context of a telecommunications provider building, say, a 150-foot tower simply because they physically couldn’t locate such a structure in the available right-of-way,” Spear said.

A bill that died in the Virginia General Assembly this year would have allowed all small cell service providers to access any public right-of-way in the state without any local approvals. Spear said the county expects a similar bill, again tied to the rollout of next-generation 5G cell service, to be introduced in the General Assembly session that begins in mid-January.

December 19, 2016

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