State, Local Officials Square Off on Indiana Cell Tower Bill

The bill imposes a number of limitations on how counties and municipalities can regulate what wireless service providers can do.

by Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind. / May 2, 2017

(TNS) -- Both Bloomington and Monroe County officials passed local legislation Friday to have some say in where future cell towers can be located in the public right-of-way ahead of today’s state deadline that would limit their control.

A bill that allows wireless communication companies to erect cell towers in public rights-of-way passed during this year’s session and has gone to the governor’s desk for signature.

In response, both city and county officials took action to ensure some local power regarding the regulation of wireless structures before the bill becomes law.

Monroe County Attorney David Schilling said the state bill gives wireless providers similar status as utility companies when it comes to locating structures in public rights-of way.

But the bill also imposes a number of limitations on how counties and municipalities can regulate what wireless service providers can do, Schilling said Friday at the Monroe County commissioners meeting.

For example, placement of wireless support structure in the public right-of-way is permitted and exempt from local zoning review if its height does not exceed those laid out in the statute.

The law provides that counties and municipalities that designate areas for underground utilities before May 1 will still be able to regulate placement of structures in those areas. That is why Schilling appeared before the commissioners days before the deadline with an ordinance for the commissioners to approve.

Schilling said along with requiring that utilities be underground in public rights-of-way, the ordinance will prohibit the placement of new wireless support structures and utility poles in those designated areas.

He said for many years the county has had policies requiring utilities to be underground if they crossed county rights-of-way and were located in county subdivisions.

Local entities with such restrictions on utility placement in public rights-of-way must allow wireless communication providers to petition for an exception, according to the new law.

The county’s ordinance, passed Friday, allows wireless communication providers to file a petition with the county. Then, within 30 days, the county commissioners must hold a public hearing and issue a decision within 60 days of the filing. The ordinance also provides exceptions for repairing or replacing existing utility poles and allowing co-location of wireless support structures on existing utility poles.

The Bloomington Board of Public Works scheduled a special session on Friday to pass similar legislation ahead of the deadline. It will apply to all public rights-of-way within the corporate limits.

Much like the county’s ordinance, the city measure allows companies wanting to construct above-ground structures to seek a waiver from the city to do so. However, the resolution passed by the works board also provides that companies already in the process of constructing above-ground structures — such as Duke Energy’s plans for a new downtown transmission line — would be exempt from the waiver requirement.

Preventing local government from imposing excessive limitations on small-cell technology will encourage future telecommunications investment in the state, according to a news release from the office of Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, who authored the bill.

“Mobile data usage has skyrocketed since 2010, increasing by 2,387 percent,” Hershman said in the release. “Industry experts say the future of meeting the increased demand lies within small-cell technology, and this bill paves the way for the installation of this infrastructure across the state.”

©2017 the Herald-Times (Bloomington, Ind.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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