Pennsylvania’s Deployment Act Dies On the Vine

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The Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act (House Bill 2564), which was proposed to help with 5G infrastructure, ran out of time and no companion bill was introduced to the Pennsylvania Senate, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer. The sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Frank Farry, told Inside Towers in an interview, he put the blame on a crusading lawyer bent on derailing the legislation as the reason for its demise.  The proposed legislation would have made it easier to put thousands of small cell antennas on utility poles, buildings, traffic lights, or other public property for 5G services.

While most state legislatures have passed a similar bill, often unanimously, Pennsylvania has met a roadblock.  Farry says that roadblock is Dan Cohen, an independent attorney from Pittsburgh who has acted on behalf of, according to him, 150 municipalities, to thwart the legislation.  Farry said Cohen used privileged information to send inflammatory emails to his clients regarding the possibility of low $25-per-pole rates and other issues to enhance his status with them and other potential customers.  “He is a person of low moral character,” Farry said “and you can quote me on that. Municipalities that have employed him have not operated in good faith.”

“I’m not aware of any one of them [municipal clients] that has denied an application by the wireless industry,” Cohen told PennLive in August.  He said he believed the proposed timeline for the review of applications is too short and the proposed fees were too low. Cohen feared it could, “lead to further stripping away of municipalities’ authority to over manage its rights-of-way.”

Farry said he is determined to not let the opposition derail the process and said he wants to open up dialogue with the municipalities to make a smooth and responsible transition to providing 5G connectivity for the Commonwealth.

“We will continue to talk with the stakeholders (towercos, carriers, turf vendors and some municipalities) to come up with a solution,” said Farry.

Because the bill never made it out of the state’s Consumer Affairs Committee, under the rules of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, it will have to be re-introduced at the start of the new legislative calendar in January, 2019.  Farry plans to do that, but faces a tough election opponent in November, who he says is using the deployment bill as a “wedge issue” in her campaign. His opponent for the 142nd District serving the Bucks County area, Lauren Lareau, has issued statements from her campaign with visions of, “refrigerator-sized boxes placed every so often on the street.”  Ferry has called it a ‘neck-and-neck’ race with his legislation being a central issue.

Last month, the FCC voted to cap the rates localities can charge for small cell deployment in public rights-of-way, among other changes to ease deployment, reported Inside Towers. The agency’s changes are similar to those considered in the Pennsylvania legislation, according to The Inquirer. The agency said the new rules could save telecoms some $2 billion in costs associated with 5G deployment. Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Association of Boroughs oppose the FCC changes.

By Jim Fryer, Managing Editor, Inside Towers

October 22, 2018

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