Another bipartisan bill preempting local ownership of streetlight poles lands in U.S. senate

4 June 2019 by Steve Blum
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Despite promises to work with local government representatives to develop less onerous language, a bill to preempt local ownership of streetlight poles and other municipal property that is 1. located in the public right of way and 2. coveted by wireless broadband providers was re-introduced in the U.S. senate with no significant changes. S.1699 is sponsored by the same bipartisan team of John Thune (R – South Dakota) and Brian Schatz (D – Hawaii) that pushed it last year.

It’s still called the Streamline small cell deployment act. It would use the same formulas to calculate rental rates for poles owned by cities and counties that are used to allocate costs between telecoms and electric companies that share utility poles. In California, that rate is generally in the range of $25 – plus or minus several bucks – per foot of occupied pole space per year. It would apply to “a facility in a right-of-way owned or managed by the State or local government for the placement, construction, or modification of a small personal wireless facility”.

The bill also sets shot clocks ranging from 60 days to 150 days for small cell permit processing, whether or not a proposed facility is in the public right of way. The shot clocks would have “deemed granted” teeth…

If a State or local government or instrumentality thereof has neither granted nor denied a request within the applicable timeframe…including any temporary waiver granted under [the terms of this bill], the request shall be deemed granted on the date that is 31 days after the date on which the government instrumentality receives a written of the failure from the applicant.

Along with federal courts, the Federal Communications Commission would get the job of enforcing shot clocks and arbitrating rental rate and fee disputes. In many ways, the bill tracks with last year’s FCC order that similarly seeks to override local ownership of streetlight poles and such, with two major differences: by comparison with S.1699 (but not with the market) the FCC was more generous with rental rates, setting a “safe harbor” figure of $270 per pole per year, and the U.S. congress has the unambiguous power to preempt ownership of municipal assets within certain limits, while the FCC does not.

The first stop for S.1699 is the U.S. senate’s commerce, science and transportation committee. Thune chairs that committee and Schatz is ranking democrat. That was the case with last year’s bill too.