WASHINGTON-Stepped-up lobbying by city, state and county officials and support from a top House Republican likely will weaken the Klug-Manton antenna siting amendment in the House-Senate conference on telecommunications reform legislation this fall.
Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., chairman of the Commerce Committee and chief sponsor of the House telecommunications bill, has pledged to offer new antenna siting language in conference to ensure local regulators are not prevented from determining where cellular, paging, specialized mobile radio and personal communications services antennas are located.
The antenna siting amendment is co-sponsored by Scott Klug, R-Wis., and Thomas Manton, D-N.Y., and was approved during Commerce subcommittee markup of the telecommunications bill in May.
The basic framework of a compromise already has been put into play by Bliley and other lawmakers that makes clear local jurisdictions will decide where antennas are erected, but zoning boards cannot prevent the placement of antennas in an area altogether nor impose bureaucratic delays.
In addition, localities would be prohibited from favoring one wireless carrier over another and from regulating antenna siting on the basis of environmental effects of radio frequency emissions.
Pocket telephone firms claim the patchwork of local zoning laws throughout the United States will thwart the development of new wireless services and competition unless there is a national antenna siting policy.
President Clinton, meanwhile, opened the way this month for wireless carriers to more easily locate antennas on federal property. The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association requested such action be taken in March.
The House passed telecommunications reform legislation containing the Klug-Manton amendment, 305 to 117, earlier this month before breaking for the August recess. Lawmakers will attempt to reconcile the bill-which was revised on orders from House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., to appease the Baby Bells- with a companion measure passed in June by the Senate during the conference in September or October. The Senate version does not include an antenna siting provision.
Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., ranking minority member of the Senate Commerce Committee, is said not to be taken by the antenna siting amendment.
Reps. Goodlattee, R-Va., and James Moran, D-Va., failed to win permission from the House Rules Committee to offer an amendment to the telecommunications bill that would have gutted the Klug-Manton provision.
“Nothing in this bill*…*prevents a local subdivision from determining where a cellular pole should be located,” said Bliley on the House floor, “but we do want to make sure that this [wireless] technology is available across the country, that we do not allow a community to say we are not going to have any cellular pole in our locality.”
But nothing in the House legislation guarantees local governments would not lose such oversight after the Federal Communications Commission adopts guidelines crafted by committees comprised of industry, state and local government and public-safety representatives.
The problem is local politicians do not trust the FCC to make the final call on federal antenna siting regulations. The commission in May rejected requests from seven states to continue regulating local rates of wireless carriers and earlier this month denied petitions for reconsideration from two of those states, Ohio and California.
Moreover, FCC Chairman Reed Hundt has publicly stated he favors federal intervention in wireless antenna siting.
Robert Fogel, a lobbyist for the National Association of Counties, calls the “negotiated rulemaking committee” required by the legislation “a side show.”
NAC, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, not relying entirely on Bliley’s promise to offer compromise language in conference, want to drum up support in the month or two before House and Senate negotiators tackle telecommunications reform legislation. Various lawmakers, they point out, formerly served in state and municipal governments.
From that group comes the allegation that local government interests were not consulted by the House Commerce Committee or given reasonable access to panel staffers.
“I think there is an understanding in the House on the scope of how to proceed and the structure of that scope is what needs to be worked out,” said CTIA President Thomas Wheeler.
Wheeler said it has never been the industry’s intention to pre-empt local zoning regulation of antenna siting, even though that is precisely what the cellular lobby asked the FCC and Congress to do earlier this year.
The industry changed its tack when House Commerce Committee staffers advised that pre-emption was inconsistent with the federalist philosophy of Republican lawmakers, who are the majority in Congress.
Clinton insists House and Senate telecommunications bills are bad for consumers and competition, and has threatened to veto legislation unless concerns he has outlined are addressed.
Some of those concerns were satisfied in amendments authored by Edward Markey, D-Mass., and approved by the House. But the White House still wants a role for the Justice Department in determining when the seven regional Bell telephone companies can enter the long-distance business. Republicans do not necessarily have to give up much or anything sought by Clinton because votes in both houses were sufficient to override a veto.
The White House has since tried to enlist support from minorities in hopes of changing some votes around.
House and Senate conferees will be selected after Labor Day, when lawmakers return to a heavy fall schedule including budget concerns and the prospect of a major government shutdown, or a “train wreck” in political parlance, if the GOP-led Congress and Clinton cannot agree on a fiscal 1996 spending package.
House and Senate telecommunications bills would maintain a deregulatory landscape for commercial wireless carriers and repeal laws that today prevent local telephone companies, long-distance carriers and cable TV operators from competing against each other.
The seven regional Bell telephone firms would be allowed to manufacture telecommunications equipment, while U.S. District Judge Harold Greene is stripped of his decade-old reign over the 1982 consent decree that broke up AT&T.
Long distance companies like AT&T Corp., MCI Communications Corp. and Sprint Corp. as well as consumer advocates are strong opponents of the telecommunications legislation. Some conservatives maintain the legislation isn’t deregulatory enough.