After Communities Sued, Ohio Lawmakers Reach Small Cell Compromise

Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign House Bill 478, which outlines new rules around the placement of wireless antennas.

by Alissa Widman Neese, The Columbus Dispatch / April 23, 2018

(TNS) — A year after dozens of cities and villages sued the state and won, stakeholders say they've reached a compromise on how to regulate wireless equipment in Ohio communities.

Municipal leaders and telecommunications-industry representatives worked together to craft a bill that is headed to Gov. John Kasich for his signature.

House Bill 478 would give municipalities the ability to regulate the placement and appearance of radio equipment called small-cell technology — such as antennae, boxes and wires — that companies fasten to traffic lights, utility poles, street signs and other public structures to provide connectivity for cellphones and other wireless devices.

The law also regulates construction of new signal towers, which are much smaller than the tall macro-towers regulated under current law, and it defines how quickly municipalities must vet requests by companies to place equipment on public land, which varies based on population.

Small-cell technology will ensure next-generation wireless devices, such as cellphones with 5G service, and maintain speedy service — especially in densely populated areas, according to wireless providers.

If Kasich signs the law, it will become effective 90 days later.

"This provides more predictability and speed to the industry, while also protecting the character of our cities," Dublin City Manager Dana McDaniel said. "That's what we've been trying to balance throughout this process."

Dublin, Columbus and Upper Arlington are among 14 central Ohio cities that were plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Four similar suits were filed elsewhere in the state. Judges ruled in favor of the municipalities in three of those cases; a case in Summit County is being appealed.

A state law approved in December 2016 allowed companies to build in public rights-of-way without consent or regulation from local governments. That law was overturned this past June before going into effect, after a Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge ruled in favor of 50 cities and villages that said the law violated the state's "single-subject" rule. It had been included in a bill that addressed multiple, varying topics.

Rep. Sarah LaTourette, R-Chesterland, and Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, sponsored House Bill 478. It passed the House 72-12 and the Senate 26-7 after about three months of hearings.

Creating the bill took several months of collaboration before that.

"There was a lot of give-and-take by both sides, but it worked out well," said Brad McLean, AT&T's director of external affairs in Ohio.

Regulating such technology is an issue that's being tackled throughout the United States.

Fifteen states already have enacted legislation to modernize rules related to small-cell technology deployment, said Jilane Rodgers Petrie, spokeswoman for CTIA, the trade association for the wireless communications industry.

Ohio's law has received public support from local municipal leaders, wireless providers AT&T and Verizon and organizations on both sides of the issue, including the Central Ohio Mayors and Managers Association, the Ohio Municipal League and CTIA.

The economic impact of such technology, coupled with the need to provide cutting-edge wireless capabilities to residents and businesses, made the compromise crucial, local city leaders said.

More than 50 percent of Ohio's adults live in wireless-only households, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We said from the start that it's in our best interest and the state's best interest to have small-cell technology deployed, but in a way that's responsible," Upper Arlington City Manager Ted Staton said.

Nationwide, it's expected 5G technology will result in 3 million new jobs, $275 billion in new investment and $500 billion in economic growth, according to a CTIA report.

Columbus stands to benefit the most in Ohio, with 5G technology expected to create more than 8,000 new jobs and generate $1.31 billion in gross domestic product growth, the report said.

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.