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Highland wants governor to dial up veto on cellular antenna bill

Highland has joined a long list of other cities across the state urging Gov. Bruce Rauer to veto a bill that would give wireless companies the right to install small cellular antennas on publicly owned utility poles and streetlights.

“Anyone can come in and jump on your (utility) poles for a small fee,” said Highland City Manager Mark Latham. “It’s not good for any community right now to have the governor sign this.”

Senate Bill 1451, which would establish the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act, has already passed the General Assembly and is awaiting action by Rauner.

Wireless companies have pushed the legislation as a way upgrade the state’s communications network.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, wireless subscribers in Illinois have grown to more than 13.3 million, an 11 percent increase since 2010. That demands a better network, the companies’ trade association says.

“These demands from the wireless industry’s customers require that wireless networks be both updated to meet the existing demand and readied for the next generation of wireless networks.

Specifically, the existing rules governing wireless networks are designed for wireless facilities that can be as tall as 200 feet. Tomorrow’s networks will rely on new small cell technology, often the size of a shoebox, which will be placed on structures such as utility poles and streetlights. These new networks need new rules and Senate Bill 1451 establishes an updated common sense framework to facilitate millions in new investment in Illinois,” Jamie Hastings, senior vice president for external and state affairs for CTIA, a trade association representing the wireless communications industry in the U.S., wrote to Rauner in a Dec. 12 letter urging him to sign the bill.

However, local governments across the state say the bill would give private companies a monopoly over public infrastructure.

“(The law) creates an automatic approval timeline, which is one-sided and detrimental to the public, presuming that municipalities are negligent — and providers not — when a permit is incomplete or inadequate,” the resolution passed by the Highland City Council read.

The law would permit private businesses to use public right-of-way at a rate far below market value, distorting the private market for small wireless facilities, the city’s resolution says.

The law would also permits wireless providers, and third parties who act as agents or contractors for wireless providers, to locate telecommunications equipment with an antenna as large as six cubic feet in size, and associated equipment up to 25 cubic feet in size on existing or new utility poles subject to minimal zoning regulations by the municipality.

Regardless of what action the governor takes, Latham said the city is in the process of updating its right of way ordinance in order to require companies to go through a permit and inspection process or face a fine.

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