Thursday’s FCC Vote on Pole Fees Draws Fire From Munis

Municipalities oppose some of the proposed updates to the pole attachment rules the FCC plans to vote on tomorrow. Those include prohibiting state and local moratoria on telecommunications facilities deployment and eliminating what the agency calls “outdated disparities” in pole attachment rates charged to carriers compared to cable and other attachers. The Report and Order allows one-touch make-ready, Inside Towers reported.

The Competitive Carriers Association tells the FCC that while providers continue to negotiate with states and localities to reach deployment agreements, “expeditious” Commission action is needed to address remaining infrastructure deployment barriers. “Many localities continue to charge exorbitant siting fees,” says CCA. The group cites a Minnesota city that wanted to charge a $5,000 administrative fee. Another city in that state recently assessed a $4,000 administrative charge to attach to a city structure, in addition to applicable permit fees.  

Chicago, San Francisco and New York also charge annual pole attachment fees starting from $4,000 per year, says CCA. It adds: “The zoning and permitting costs in one North Carolina town for attaching wireless equipment to existing structures exceeds $10,000, whereas the fees for similar attachments are approximately $200.”

National League of Cities representatives recently urged the Commission away from local preemption as a way to expedite deployment of small cell wireless infrastructure. In a meeting with Commissioner Brendan Carr, they outlined the difference between the various fees local governments may charge when they are exercising their police power, versus authorizing private use of public property.

“Local governments may, under their police powers, require permits that establish, for example, the time, place and manner of a particular deployment in the rights-of-way, in which case the permit fees are often already limited to the direct cost incurred by the local government. However, when local governments authorize private use of public property, they have a right and a duty to residents to charge a sufficient rent for for-profit use of public assets,” says the NLC. Many local governments are also required by state constitutions or local charters to charge a fair market price for use of public property, they add.

The City of Portland operated a small cell pilot program for attachments to investor-owned utility poles from 2014 to 2017. Only Verizon and Crown Castle (doing business as NewPath Networks) submitted applications. Portland tells the FCC it approved 66 applications but there was “significant” additional work city workers had to do to correct “easily-preventable applicant errors,” including missing application fees, math errors in calculating total equipment volume,  missing documentation of the pole owner’s permission to use the structure and failure to sign the application. “We were surprised that not a single application was free from an easily-preventable error,” Portland told the agency.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

August 1, 2018

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