The Federal Communications Commission ruled earlier this month that state public utilities commissions can no longer regulate local rates of commercial wireless carriers. This ruling affects not only the cellular industry, but the paging, specialized mobile radio and new personal communications services industries as well.

Seven states had petitioned the FCC seeking to retain the right to regulate wireless rates within their state boundaries. Proponents for deregulation believe that it will bring more competition to the marketplace, hence lowering consumer prices.

Both sides of the wireless industry have been debating rate regulation for years. But a new issue that more or less quietly slid into the current House telecom bill also would take away some local and state authority and pass it onto the feds.

The House telecommunications subcommittee approved establishing a committee made up of industry and government types charged with crafting federal antenna siting guidelines. The antenna siting measure, offered by Scott Klug, R-Wis., and cosponsored by Thomas Manton, D-N.Y., was added to telecommunications reform legislation spearheaded by House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley, R-Va. The bill could go before the full committee this week.

Including the Klug amendment in the House bill is good news for present and potential wireless operators, which (rightfully) are worried that local zoning boards could delay or prevent the construction of thousands of new cellular and PCS transmitter towers in coming years.

Also included in the amendment is a provision that says no state or local government may regulate antenna sites using the “radiofrequency emissions” scare tactic, as long as RF emissions from the site meet FCC-set regulations.

The collective sigh of relief you hear is from wireless site coordinators.

My first reporting job was to cover the city commission in a small town, including its planning commission. This board of 11 people had immense power over the city and virtually no one (except this faithful reporter) attended their meetings.

City planners-despite their training-must still answer to city planning commissions. And planning commissions are a fickle bunch. A yellow sign surrounded by light bulbs was not likely to get this commission’s approval (bright lights are an eyesore). Nor was an oversized sign (again, another eyesore).

Although the commission believed it was taking the high ground in not polluting our small town with those eyesores, I always felt it should have taken into account issues like the retail business was dying and maybe a few big signs would entice people to shop in our ‘burb.

I imagine that same planning commission would not take kindly to antenna tower placement.

It seems House subcommittee members, at least, realize the importance of wireless communications, and don’t want to let fickle planning commissions stop that progress.-Tracy Anderson Ford


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