San Diego OKs ‘Urgency’ Law Around Broadband Infrastructure

With the goal of boosting high-speed Internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic, San Diego loosened its rules Tuesday that govern how communications companies can install new infrastructure.

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(TNS) — Aiming to boost high-speed internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic, San Diego loosened its rules Tuesday that govern how communications companies install new infrastructure.

The changes will shrink the timeline for getting projects approved from the usual four to six months down to between 30 and 45 days.

City officials said communications infrastructure must be deployed rapidly to avoid outages and problems for San Diegans who depend on the internet for telecommuting, telehealth, distance learning and other crucial activities.

The City Council approved the “urgency” ordinance with a 9-0 vote, one more vote than was necessary. Urgency ordinances require approval by at least four-fifths of the nine-member council.

“I really can’t express the importance of this item and what this means for not only our residents but for our small business owners and those who are relying on the internet to live their everyday lives,” Councilman Chris Cate said.

City officials and leaders of the local communications industry could not say Tuesday how many projects in the pipeline would be granted accelerated approval under the urgency ordinance.

Council members Joe LaCava and Marni von Wilpert expressed disappointment that the ordinance was not presented to the council’s infrastructure committee before coming to the full council for a vote.

The urgency ordinance will only be in place for 45 days. At that time, the council must either let it lapse or extend it to a full year — 10 months and 45 days beyond the initial 45 days.

Cate said the city could make changes later to the ordinance in response to community feedback and complaints.

The urgency ordinance includes two conditions that communications companies must meet. One is that new infrastructure can’t be installed underground. The other is that nothing installed can be larger than 36 inches in height or 48 inches in diameter.

Von Wilpert said community needs make the urgency ordinance necessary.

“It is more important than ever that our residents and businesses do have reliable internet access,” she said.

Industry leaders said their goal is making sure no one loses internet service that is crucial to their livelihood, their education or any other ambitions.

“Connectivity is of the utmost importance in social and economic mobility, and this urgency ordinance will allow us to meet the needs of our customers and your constituents,” said Felipe Monroig of Spectrum.

The urgency ordinance also received support from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the local Asian Business Association.

“This item is one more tool in the toolbox to help support those who need it most and continue to bridge the digital divide,” said Jason Paguio, chief executive of the Asian Business Association.

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