Bill Changes How Cell Phone Towers Go Up

4 years 5 months 1 week ago Sunday, June 30 2013 Jun 30, 2013 Sunday, June 30, 2013 10:01:00 PM CDT June 30, 2013 in News
By: Turner Twyman

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri could soon have a new law that changes the way cell phone towers are put up in the state.

House Bill 331, which is awaiting Gov. Jay Nixon's signature, encourages the expansion of wireless communications services in the state, and make the process more uniform.  The bill establishes a minimum number of days that an authority must evaluate an application for a new wireless structure, and sets guidelines for the information that must be provided by the applicant. It also sets guidelines and limits local authorities from taking actions that could result in a non-uniform market for wireless services in the state.

The bills sponsor, Tuscumbia Republican Representative Rocky Miller, says the bill is just like when there was rural expansion of electricity in the state.  He said, "This is gonna really help expand broadband access to rural communities throughout the state." 

But the Missouri Municipal League, which represents more than 670 municipalities in the state, says the bill limits local governments' abilities to control the placement of cell phone towers. Richard Sheets, League deputy director, said, "It just lists all these things that cities cannot do, so it actually limits local control over these cell towers."

The bill lists 18 items that local governments are no longer allowed to consider or do when it comes to the placement of wireless facilities.  Under the bill, local government can no longer:

  • Consider alternate sites for the placement of wireless facilities.
  • Ask the telecommunications company to consider adding on to an existing wireless structure.
  • Require the removal of an existing wireless structure as a condition for adding a new one.

But Miller says the restrictions on local governments help make the process more fair,  He said, "It balances the power between the municipalities and the telecommunications industry...by not making it a one sided conversation."  Miller says before this bill, local governments had too much power. He also said, "We're gonna limit the broadband access if we keep it the way it is."

Patrick Zenner, the development services manager for the Columbia Community Development Department, worries about the financial aspects of the bill.  The bill now requires the minimum contract with a wireless provider to be 15 years, which is something Zenner said neither government nor wireless providers want, because of the rapid expansion of the technology.

Zenner also said that the bill puts a cap on the amount a local government can charge for rent. He said local governments with improved lands could not charge more than private citizens, even if the private citizen's land was undeveloped. Zenner said that is a problem because it means local governments will have difficulty getting a return on the investment of public land, and may not get a fair deal.
                           
The bill also limits the information that telecommunications companies must give to local governments for the application process.  Zenner said if the bill is signed into law, "We can't ask them to justify why do you need this tower, which is something we can do now."
                                      
Governor Nixon has until July 14 to either sign or veto the bill, or it automatically becomes law.

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