Washington Township Supervisors Tuesday weighed whether or not to support a request by the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors to oppose a proposed House bill that would dictate how local municipalities handle wireless infrastructure.
House Bill 1620 — also known as the Wireless Infrastructure Deployment bill — provides guidelines for the regulation of small wireless antennas and support structures and provides for use of public rights-of-way and access to municipal poles in order to facilitate high-speed wireless broadband to rural areas throughout the state.
The bill amends the 2012 Wireless Broadband Collocation Act and is sponsored by Rep. Nick Miccarelli, a Republican who represents parts of Delaware County and Rep. Frank Farry, a Republican who represents Bucks County.
“To address the growing demands for enhanced wireless communications services, including the provisioning of high-speed broadband in rural Pennsylvania, wireless providers are deploying small cell facilities in targeted areas of the Commonwealth. However, because siting decisions are made on a municipal level in Pennsylvania, the wireless industry is faced with varying and inconsistent fees and siting procedures that hamper its ability to deploy this critical wireless infrastructure,” Miccarelli stated in a memo to the House. “The Commonwealth has 2562 local governments with varying municipal zoning ordinances that address wireless infrastructure siting. Compliance is burdensome, time-consuming, costly and not only impedes but sometimes outright prohibits the deployment of small cell wireless infrastructure needed to meet consumer demands.”
Miccarelli said his proposed legislation preserves local government’s authority over zoning and land use, including the ability to approve or deny wireless infrastructure siting permit applications “consistent with common sense limitations.”
“My legislation will limit the imposition of fees, permitting requirements and general policies above and beyond fees, requirements and policies imposed on other companies occupying the public rights-of-way,” he wrote. “It also prohibits a municipality from requiring a wireless provider to justify the deployment of its infrastructure as a stipulation in the permit application process.”
But representatives of PSATS are against the bill, claiming it actually takes away the power of local officials to regulate distributed antenna systems.
“House Bill 1620 would strip municipalities of their legal authority to regulate wireless facilities both within and outside the public rights-of-way, undermining public safety and the protection of the rights-of-way, limit a municipality’s ability to negotiate and collect reasonable fees for co-location on municipal infrastructure and mandate municipal cooperation in excess of that required by the federal government,” said David Sanko, PSATS executive director in a proposed resolution provided to Washington Township Supervisors.
Sanko urged township officials to pass a resolution opposing the bill.
But Washington Township Supervisor Chad Reichard, cautioned his fellow board members from making a knee-jerk reaction.
“There’s a big push to expand consumer broadband to rural areas of the state. The intentions are good to bring broadband access to more people, but it takes away a lot of the rights municipalities have on location,” said Reichard, who in his day job is legislative director for Sen. Rich Alloway. “This bill is in its infancy. It doesn’t mean it’s going to become law or go anywhere. There a lot of amendments that could still get broadband out without neutering municipalities’ ability to do it.”
Reichard said his main concern is not sending the message that the township doesn’t support expanding broadband’s reach to rural communities.
“It’s not that we don’t support them. There’s a definite compromise that could be worked out,” he said.
“They can’t take it out of the township’s hands,” said Supervisor Elaine Gladhill.
“There are other ways we can handle this besides passing a resolution,” Reichard said. “We need to make it clear we are not opposed to the concept, but we have concerns about the mechanism for doing so. We oppose it as currently drafted, but are open to compromise.”
Supervisor Charles Strausbaugh suggested tabling any action on a resolution until the bill has interest or action taken on it or more information is available.
Township Manager Jeff Geesaman suggested letting PSATS handle the opposition without an official response from the township at this point.
“We’ll put this in the hands of PSATS for their lobby,” he said.
This article originally ran on therecordherald.com.