Illinois Cities, Counties Unite Against Small Cell Wireless Bill

The proposed legislation would effectively remove local control over where providers place wireless installations on public infrastructure.

by Steve Lord, The Beacon-News / November 7, 2017

(TNS) -- Suburban cities and counties are showing a united front against a bill in Springfield that would regulate small cell wireless installations statewide, but not on a local level.

Led by Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico, three county board members and seven mayors of other area communities held a press conference Monday in Aurora to lead the charge against SB1451, known as the Small Cell Wireless Bill.

The local officials are united in their fear that SB1451 will take away local regulation of small cell wireless installations — both in where they are located in local rights-of-way and on existing municipal light and power poles, and how many are allowed in any one place.

"In essence, it allows private companies to have a monopoly over public infrastructure," said Irvin.

Chirico pointed out that the reason for small cell installations — to further the latest 5G technology that brings more power and data capacity to wireless communication — is a state-of-the-art technology everyone favors.

"We all want it, but let's do it right," Chirico said. "Let's be thoughtful about it. We don't get a second chance at this."

Joining the mayors on the dais Monday were three county board chairmen: Chris Lauzen, Kane County; Dan Cronin, DuPage County; and Scott Gryder, Kendall County. The county board chairmen of all six Chicago area suburban counties — also including Will, Lake and McHenry — have publicly opposed the bill.

The city of Chicago is exempted from the bill.

Also at the press conference were mayors from seven different municipalities in DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties.

According to a joint news release from Aurora and Naperville, SB1451 would create the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act that would assure local governments could not "prohibit, regulate or charge for the installation, mounting, maintaining, modifying, operating, or replacement of small wireless facilities on or adjacent to a wireless support structure or utility pole."

Irvin pointed out that the current legislation gives private control over installations on taxpayer-owned facilities, and that it "can number in the hundreds of thousands in our community."

The law also establishes an artificially low fee for local government to recover costs incurred by the use of public facilities, Irvin said.

Chirico pointed out that over the years, Naperville has spent "millions of dollars" having electric wires put underground in attempts to make neighborhoods look nicer without utility poles.

Cronin said Verizon and DuPage County recently took nine months to craft a 20-year agreement that would become void after five years, if the Senate bill were passed.

"Who do you want to decide what your neighborhood looks like?" he said. "This is overreaching by the state."

Gryder, along with Oswego Village President Gail Johnson, pointed out that Oswego is a fast-growing community that already has "put a tremendous amount of planning into the future." He wondered if governments would end up having to pay private entities to expand.

One of the things the local officials urged was to negotiate the bill so it is fairer to local communities. They pointed out that in many cases, local communities have done more research into small cells and how it affects local infrastructure.

Aurora, for instance, within the last year has enacted a new ordinance that governs towers and small cell installations, and is looking at making the small cell regulations clearer.

"More work needs to be done (on this bill)," said Lauzen. "There's no reason to hurry."

Irvin pointed out that everyone wants the 5G technology, but that there is a way to properly do it without inundating the landscape with the power installations.

To that end, he had Michale Pegues, Aurora's chief information officer, talk about how the 5G networks can be built with more centralized control, eliminating the need for individual power installations on each pole. But the companies do not want to spend that money right now, officials said.

He also pointed out that municipalities have a concern about their own public safety networks, and what would happen if a private entity interferes with the public safety facilities.

SB1451 is in hearings now before the House Public Utilities Committee. It already has lost once in the House — by nine votes earlier this year.

"There are dozens of lobbyists presenting this," said Roger Claar, Bolingbrook mayor. "They say nothing ever dies in Springfield."

©2017 The Beacon-News (Aurora, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.