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Bills to ease upgrade to 5G wireless go to Michigan governor

Michigan lawmakers on Thursday finalized bills that would ease the wireless industry's shift to next-generation technology, approving statewide regulations for the installation of a dense network of "small cells" on telephone poles, traffic signals and other infrastructure.

The legislation was sent to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for his expected signature a day after it won bipartisan House approval on 74-35 and 77-32 votes. It is backed by carriers such as Verizon and AT&T but opposed by local governments as an infringement on their ability to recover costs for the use of public rights of way.

Michigan would become the 21st state to enact laws that streamline regulations to facilitate the deployment of fifth-generation, or 5G , small cells, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

AT&T Michigan President David Lewis said 5G technology will enable faster wireless internet speeds, provide more network capacity to stream music or vides, and improve wireless options in places where large cell towers are not ideal.

"Senate Bill 637 and the investment it will encourage are vital to building out Michigan's broadband infrastructure and the Legislature is right to take it up," he said in a statement that also noted the importance of 5G technology to developing self-driving and connected cars.

Supporters of the legislation say accessing public rights of way is different across the state's 83 counties, which have contrasting fees — sometimes exorbitant ones. The bills would let the state or municipalities charge no more than $20 annually for a wireless provider to "collocate" an antenna on each existing utility pole or cell tower, or $125 a year on ones built after the law takes effect. Rates could go up by 10 percent every five years.

Opponents of the bills say the fee structure would not cover their costs, leaving taxpayers to foot a bill that private companies should pay.

Ed Noyola, deputy director for the County Road Association of Michigan, said the legislation would supersede agreements that have already been reached at the local level "and throws everything out the window. They get $20 a pole annually, and that's it. That seems like a real slap in the face as far as we're concerned, from the standpoint that we still have to manage the right of way" alongside roads.

Critics also cite concerns about not being to address aesthetic issues in historical areas or being able to negotiate free Wi-Fi services in public places. Other detractors are worried about the health effects of wireless technology.

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