Mobilitie’s fast and loose way of building out cellular networks has earned it and its major customer, Sprint, fines and a reprimand from the Federal Communications Commission. In a consent decree – a negotiated settlement – Mobilitie agreed to pay a $1.6 million fine and Sprint agreed to a $10 million fine for ignoring federal environmental and historic review regulations when building new towers.
The FCC’s documents don’t detail where and when the two companies sinned, but the violations were deliberate, as Mobilitie’s consent decree makes clear…
In an effort to meet certain deadlines, Mobilitie had commenced construction of certain wireless facilities without securing all necessary regulatory and environmental approvals required under the Commission’s Wireless Infrastructure Rules. Specifically, prior to construction, Mobilitie did not timely complete registration of certain antenna structures with the Commission as required under Section 17.4 of the Rules and did not complete the environmental and/or historic preservation review process set forth in Section 1.1307(a) of the Rules.
Mobilitie and Sprint have to put stricter compliance processes into place so they don’t offend again. The practical effect will be less than you might think, though, because the FCC changed the environmental and historic review rules for some kinds of wireless facilities last month. So it’s possible that the at least some of the activities that got Sprint and Mobilitie into trouble in the past are now legal.
In its push to upgrade Sprint’s mobile network, Mobilitie has also alienated local governments by disingenuously claiming that 120-foot steel poles are “utility poles” rather than the cell towers they actually are, and by operating under a confusing array of corporate aliases. Companies, such as Mobilitie, that are certified as “telephone corporations” by the California Public Utilities Commission are allowed to install utility poles in the public right of way at no cost and with minimal local oversight. On the other hand, cell towers can be, and usually are, more tightly regulated by cities and counties. At least until the FCC decides to rewrite those rules, too.
Hey guys, cities aren’t dumb.
Mobilitie’s attempt to skate past local permit requirements in its nationwide effort to install 70,000 new wireless sites for Sprint appears to be coming up short. The strategy appears to be to file a truckload of applications for 120-foot cellular towers but label them as utility poles and hope no one notices. As far as I can tell, 120 feet is just the maximum size they’re contemplating, so that’s what they apply to build. As I understand it, Mobilitie will chop it down as far as necessary in order to meet height restrictions and other local requirements.
It’s basic message to local jurisdictions has been we have authority from someone else, so get out of the way. That didn’t go over well in Mississippi according to a story by Henry Bailey in the the DeSoto Times-Tribune (h/t to Omar Masry at the City and County of San Francisco for the pointer)…
“I just don’t think it’s worth the paper it’s written on,” said Supervisor Lee Caldwell of Nesbit of what Mobilitie network real estate specialist Brett Smith described as a “certificate of need” from the Mississippi Public Service Commission. Caldwell and other board members noted that the PSC doesn’t have statutory authority to regulate wireless communications.
Smith said the PSC action was sought so Mobilitie could proceed with the rights and entitlements of a “public utility,” but Caldwell said of that, “You call yourself a ‘public utility,’ but you’re really just an antenna company” that sells space to cellular service providers. She added, “I don’t think you have a legal right to come here.”
In California, local planners and engineers are figuring out that calling a 120-foot tower a utility pole doesn’t necessarily make it a utility pole. Somebody at Mobilitie has to eventually realise that people working in local governments talk to each other.
Click for the big, ugly picture.
Mobilitie, a mobile telecoms infrastructure company, was hired by Sprint to install 70,000 new wireless sites as it tries to revamp its network and business. Fair enough. But then Mobilitie got cute when it started filing the necessary permit applications.
First, it adopted legal aliases – California Utility Pole Authority and California Transmission Network, LLC, for example – that have a vaguely official ring to them, and seem confusingly similar to the names of legitimate joint utility pole authority groups and electricity transmission organisations.
Then, it tried labelling its planned 120-foot towers as “utility poles” and began applying for permits to install them, for free, in public right of ways rather than renting space on private or public property, as cell tower companies are supposed to do. That didn’t go over well in Yolo County (h/t to @OmarMasry for the pointer)…
Yolo County recently denied an encroachment permit application from a telecommunications group that proposed to install eight, 120-foot tall, communications towers within County road rights-of-way…Though their application stated that the group wanted to install 120-foot tall “utility poles,” these types of installations are considered communications towers, and would be subject to a use permit(s) in Yolo County. Four and one half foot diameter towers (at their base) were proposed by this group to be squeezed within narrow County road rights-of-way. These locations apparently would provide optimal service to potential customers, and of additional benefit to the group, would not require property or right-of-way acquisition.
Mobilitie got similar push back in Indiana and Florida. As well it should. Mobile broadband service might be a public utility, but that doesn’t mean any stick it plants in the ground is a “utility pole”. Calling a monopole tower by a different name changes nothing, unless the people reviewing the permit applications aren’t paying attention to the details.
The most difficult and costly part of any wireline broadband infrastructure project is getting cable from point A to point B. There are two primary ways of doing it: stringing it on poles or running through buried conduit. Since the chances of getting permission to build a new pole route in California is only slightly better than the odds of getting approval to drill for oil in San Francisco Bay, your only independent alternative is to start digging, at the rate of $30 to $60 a foot or more.
But public utilities in California do not operate completely independently. That’s good news if you have the seal of approval from the California Public Utilities Commission, otherwise known as a certificate of public convenience and necessity. That piece of paper gives you the right to go to other (older) utilities, like PG&E or AT&T, and force them to let you use their poles and conduits. Up to a point, anyway. If there’s no space available, then it’s generally up to you to pay the cost of making room, which can be quite high if poles have to be replaced or new duct work installed.
Even so, the contract terms that regulated utilities impose on each other are, to a large extent, regulated and publicly disclosed. Jim Warner at UCSC has taken the trouble of hunting down several of these contracts and posting them. As he explains…
Regulated utilities with access to public right-of-way must share resources with other utilities. Rates are established in contracts that also set other terms of sharing. Underground duct rents for about $1 per foot per year. Right to attach a cable to a phone or power pole is about $5 per pole per year. I have a collection of contracts with rates.
Which is right here, although I’ve pasted the links he’s gathered to date below as well. Happy reading.Sonic and AT&T, 2010IP Networks and AT&T, 2010Pioneer Telephone and AT&T, 2010Summary of rates charged by AT&T to dozens of companies, 2011Plumas Sierra Telecommunications and AT&T, 2012Summary of rates charged by AT&T to dozens of companies, 2012Summary of unbundled rates charged by AT&T to dozens of companies, 2012Fireline Network Solutions and AT&T, 2013AT&T trenching terms – who pays – 2013Suddenlink and AT&T, 2013Suddenlink and AT&T, 2013AT&T’s stand-alone structure access agreement for poles, conduits and rights-of-way, 2013PG&E’s standard overhead facilities license, 2007PG&E fee schedule for wireline attachments to distribution poles, 2014