Opposition to Wireless Bills Mounting as They Cross Over between House and Senate

February 15, 2018

Two proposals by the wireless industry have made the halfway point and now get further consideration in each chamber. Below is a brief summary of where each stands and continued action needed to contact legislators in opposition.

Oppose gutting of local authority to address siting of wireless towers

The first measure, HB 1258 (Kilgore) and SB 405 (McDougle), are bills that gut local zoning authority to address the siting of wireless towers. Specifically, they allow wireless companies to place cell towers up to 50 feet tall within rights-of-way without local control. Additionally, for towers of greater height, the bill hamstrings localities’ ability to obtain information and address citizen concerns through the public hearing process. HB 1258 passed by a vote of 56 to 41 and has been assigned to Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. VACo did advocate for an amendment to the bill requiring wireless service providers to provide an annual report on “the expansion of service in previously unserved areas.” The purpose of this requirement is to give an accounting of how a private entity, seeking the privileges of a public utility, will increase service to citizens. Even with the amendment, VACo still opposes. Additionally, VACo notes that an updated floor vote for HB 1258 indicates three delegates recorded as voting yes when they intended to vote no. This increases the possibility of defeating the bills with sustained opposition. SB 405 passed by a vote of 22 to 13 and has been assigned to House Commerce and Labor Committee.

ACTION REQUIRED – Contact your legislators now to oppose this gutting of local authority to address the siting of wireless towers.

KEY POINTS

  • The bill offers NO guarantee of better access to broadband or wireless services to unserved, underserved and urban / suburban areas of Virginia.
  • The bill allows a wireless structure up to 50 feet in height to be placed within rights-of-way without local control.
  • The bill strips local governing bodies of their ability to act on community concerns on the siting of wireless towers.


Oppose capping of local charges for use of public right-of-way

The second proposal, HB 1427 (Kilgore) and SB 823 (McDougle), sets a limit on what VDOT and localities may charge for the use of publicly owned rights-of-way by the wireless industry for the placement of poles and towers. HB 1427 passed by a vote of 83 to 14 and has been referred to Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. In an encouraging note, SB 823, after reporting out of committee by an overwhelming vote of 12 to 3, barely survived by a vote of 19 to 18 on the Senate floor on February 13. This shows sustained opposition from local elected officials is starting to influence legislators. The bill now heads to House Commerce and Labor Committee.

ACTION REQUIRED Contact your legislators now to oppose this giveaway of publicly-owned property to a private entity.

KEY POINTS

  • Virginia’s roads and highways are publicly-owned assets whose value has been enhanced through significant investments in construction and maintenance.
  • Local elected bodies are empowered to negotiate, through contract, with private entities for the use of publicly-owned land.
  • The state should not usurp local authority in the management of locality owned assets

VACo Contact: Joe Lerch, AICP

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