Cities Beat Back Senate 5G Play

— Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) during Friday’s White House 5G summit plugged his STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act, S. 3157, which would override local rules and limit fees for installing 5G infrastructure. But despite Thune talking it up, local officials seem to have succeeded at beating back the legislation through steady opposition — although they failed to stop last week’s FCC vote approving a similar regulatory measure.

— Out of time: Opponents of the bill may have run out the clock. No hearing is scheduled, and there’s scant time before this current session of Congress ends. Thune once hoped to mark up the legislation as long as 10 months ago but faced delays amid pushback from municipal, state, public power and utility groups. They negotiated with staff for months before the bill’s introduction in June and offered broad objections afterward (Thune had circulated a draft version back in October 2017).

— The bigger picture: Wireless giants like AT&T and Verizon lobbied both Congress and the FCC all year to help them pre-empt local rules as a way to secure timely, cheap rollout of 5G small cell sites. While city officials can sue the FCC for last week’s vote (and several signal they will), legislation could be “permanently damaging,” Minnesota League of Cities President Heidi Omerza warned Congress this summer.

— Other senators had signaled to Thune they were watching these cities’ concerns, and by late summer Thune told John he wanted to “smooth the way” to resolve differences. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), his co-sponsor, also noted that amendments to the bill were inevitable. “We’re trying to find out if there’s a middle path,” Schatz added. “The National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, those are organizations I want to listen to.” The National League of Cities’ Angelina Panettieri counters she has a tough time envisioning any legislative compromise satisfactory to local officials given “fundamental philosophical differences” with Thune and Schatz about their more “prescriptive” approach.

— Yet not all local officials are unified in opposition. The bill “seems extremely reasonable,” Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken told John. “You have three months to rule on something like this, which I think is plenty of time.” He says he’d testify if Thune holds a hearing. “This is a way for the federal government in some ways to say, hey, we’re trying to help you here because trust us, in two years from now, when your neighbor 300 miles away has 5G and you don’t, you’re going to be losing workers, you’re going to be losing business development opportunities,” TenHaken said. Omerza, who is also a council member for Ely, Minn., countered that the bill would be an “unfunded mandate” stretching small-town coffers. “We’re still trying to work on high-speed internet here, for goodness’ sake,” Omerza said in an interview. “It’s very difficult to have some of these conversations when we’ve really been left behind.”

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

Your thoughts?  Which is more important local control and revenue extraction or rapid deployment of 5G?

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