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U.S. Senate bill could boost wireless technology


A bipartisan effort to speed the development of advanced wireless networks nationwide is under way in the U.S. Senate.

Draft legislation by Sens. John Thune, R-South Dakota, and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, would require state and local government agencies to act on applications for multiple-company wireless applications within 60 days. The bill would also provide guidelines for fees that telecom companies would pay to access state and local sites for wireless relays and would give cable operators a “presumed right” to public rights of way.

Frederick Hill, communications director for Thune, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said the aim of the legislation was to benefit areas of the nation that don’t have access to cutting-edge information technologies.

“The internet carries economic and educational opportunity as well as entertainment and community to users,” Hill said in an email to “But millions of Americans, mostly in rural areas, still lack access to high-speed service at home, depriving them of these benefits. The legislation being written is intended to promote and reduce costs of broadband deployment.”

Some of the details of the bill remain in play, he said. The legislation has yet to be introduced, and Thune’s committee is currently working on addressing concerns about the bill, according to Hill.

A bipartisan approach is key to passing the bill, he said. Schatz, Thune’s Democratic co-sponsor, is the ranking member of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet.

The bill would prohibit local agencies from denying the wireless companies’ access to publicly owned poles, rights of way and other structures except in cases involving “safety, reliability or generally applicable rules as to design, concealment and engineering.” In addition, the General Accounting Office would be directed to review wireless access on tribal lands.

Most broadband companies seem to favor the streamlining of rules to expand access to high-speed internet and broadband services across the nation. CTIA – the Wireless Association, a trade group representing the wireless telecom industry, sees the Thune-Schatz bill as a path to help the United States win a worldwide race to put in place what’s called 5G.

5G refers generally to the fifth generation of wireless technology, a rollout that will provide higher speeds and capacities than current cellular systems. Rather than being dependent on fiber optic lines that run directly to homes, 5G would have cell sites installed around neighborhoods, and customers would get wireless modems to access the system.

“By modernizing how wireless networks are deployed, this draft bill would help enable the wireless industry to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to win the global race to 5G,” the CTIA senior vice president for government affairs, Kelly Cole, said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to its quick passage.”

Efforts to streamline the permitting process for wireless technologies, however, have run into opposition in recent months. California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in October vetoed a state bill that paralleled the federal legislation. It would have created a uniform permitting process for small cell wireless equipment and would have required local governments to charge standardized rates to companies seeking to place such equipment on publicly owned property, including streetlights and traffic signals.

“There is something of real value in having a process that results in extending this innovative technology rapidly and efficiently,” Brown said in his veto message. “Nevertheless, I believe that the interest which localities have in managing rights of way requires a more balanced solution than the one achieved in this bill.”

Brown didn’t mention potential health effects of electromagnetic radiation emanating from such wireless equipment, but California groups, including the California Brain Tumor Association, highlighted those concerns in a campaign opposing the legislation.

“I have serious concerns about the deployment of the infrastructure for 5G, and if this is federally pre-empted, it will be disastrous for the American people,” Ellen Marks, the association’s executive director, told in an email. “5G requires wireless telecommunication facilities (WTFs) every two to eight homes, as it does not penetrate walls and needs this relay system. The infrastructure is unsightly, noisy, a fire danger, will harm property values and is detrimental to our health.”

Marks points to a 2015 study carried out by university researchers in India that concluded participants living near mobile phone base stations sustained higher genetic damage parameters compared to a control group. Another study published in “Nature Research” this month found that women exposed to high magnetic field radiation have nearly three times of risk of miscarriage than those with lower exposure.

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