WASHINGTON-Having failed to secure antenna siting moratoria relief from Congress, the wireless telecom industry now faces the bitter prospect of legislation to limit federal intrusion into local zoning matters along with an unwanted battle with powerful organized labor.

Warnings by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) against expanded federal pre-emption during confirmation hearings for the four Federal Communications Commission nominees represents a major turnabout in the antenna siting debate.

Before Hutchison threatened FCC chairman pick William Kennard with introducing legislation to restrict federal pre-emption of state/local telecom regulation, House telecommunications subcommittee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) dropped plans to pursue federal pre-emption bills.

As a result, the incoming Democratic-led FCC of Kennard, Harold Furchtgott-Roth, Gloria Tristani, Michael Powell and Susan Ness may be forced to seriously reconsider plans to pre-empt antenna siting moratoria.

In addition, the new FCC has to deal with an 800-pound gorilla: the union.

The Communications Workers of America told the FCC it “believes that local and state jurisdictions are the appropriate authority to make land use decisions regarding wireless facility siting and that in exercising that authority, state and local jurisdictions have the legal authority to adopt siting moratoria.”

During the past year, consumer activists stepped up lobbying efforts to thwart federal pre-emption of local antenna siting zoning and now appear to have strengthened ties with organized labor.

CWA is attempting to make inroads into the fast-growing wireless industry by latching onto antenna siting, health and traditional labor issues such as salary and benefits.

Kennard and other FCC nominees are on record saying federal pre-emption should be applied only as a last resort and, if at all, sparingly.

On the House side, Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and James Moran (D-Va.) remain opponents of expansive federal pre-emption and are potential sponsors of bills to protect cities and states against federal intervention in antenna siting matters.

The 1996 telecom act prevents localities from blocking the placement of wireless antennas on health grounds if carriers adhere to federal radio-frequency radiation exposure guidelines.

In addition to worries about a possible cancer risk from RF, local regulators and residents oppose mobile phone antennas because of the impact for landscape and property values.

The massive shift in momentum on the antenna siting debate to the states represents perhaps the worst lobbying setback for the wireless telecom industry in years.

Antenna siting is the most pressing issue for the wireless industry today.

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, which has been a powerful catalyst for federal pre-emption, counts 165 antenna siting moratoria. The trade group claims the delays hinder the buildout of new personal communications services systems and the expansion of cellular networks.

While interconnection compensation, numbering, portability, resale, universal service and other issues are important to incumbent wireless carriers, they diminish in relevancy unless networks are constructed and on the air.


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