Basically, it would allow cellphone companies to plop their towers pretty much anywhere they want without local governments having any say-so in the matter if a city/county takes longer than 150 days to approve a siting application. Not only that but it permits them to raise the height of any existing towers by up to 20 feet, or about two stories, without asking for anybody’s permission.
Actually, the intention of HB 176 is not deliberately evil. Let us assume government can react fast when it has to do so. Besides, the stated purpose is to allow communications technology and its improvements to move as fast as possible. That’s not a bad thing in itself, although there are many elements involved that should be even more upsetting to Greater Rome authorities than their already expressed concerns regarding possible interference with signals for the just-completed public-safety radio network in which taxpayers have invested millions.
For example, as with Savannah that has already raised this objection, it sure could mar efforts to preserve “historic” appearance as, among other things, the proposed notion could ignore zoning laws as well and plop cell towers where alleged to be most needed for coverage, etc. … such as in the middle of a subdivision or a public park. It would certainly void all local insistence, in order to get a site permit, to hide such operations inside church steeples or vaguely disguise them as trees.
THERE’S EVEN a clause in the legislation prohibiting local jurisdictions from requiring towers to be placed on public lands and adding that a government can’t charge more in rental fees for putting a tower on public property than whatever the highest private lease price might be for putting one up in, say, a backyard in Maplewood or Saddle Mountain.
Unlikely or not, mentally imagine something five times taller than the Clock Tower being put right next to it. Get the picture of what tomorrow might look like now?
Cities, in particular, have also raised safety objections such as — what if the big, heavy thing falls over with people living beneath it?
All these worries have thus far been brushed aside in a General Assembly already not a faithful believer in the “home rule” concept, except for itself. Also, it is worth noting that Georgia for some reason (no limits yet on lobbyist gifts?) is the very first state actually considering such legislation in a movement — actually triggered at the federal level — now some years old.
To grasp what seems to be afoot it is necessary to understand what technology dreamers and investors already project: A day when “wireless” has the speed and capacity to carry not only all phone traffic but also provide television, internet and similar. Streamed a YouTube clip to your cellphone lately? Now think bigger.
THAT WOULD remove the need for all current “wires” — themselves not something many would argue are “pretty” above ground — and the costs of maintaining/repairing them. It would also wipe out most “franchise fees” such as phone companies and cable outfits now pay to use the rights-of-way along city/county streets and highways.
On national average, that makes up 7 percent of local government revenues. Nobody has figured out how to “stream” electrical power or natural gas yet but obviously Rome/Floyd might lose a hefty chunk of this “action” with the result of increasing local pressure on raising property taxes and similar. In fact, the local taxation “take away” game by bigger, stronger powers has already really started to handcuff local options.
Now, wireless is not yet fast enough or of sufficient signal capacity to handle this … but the day may come when TV and the word “cable” are divorced, and fast-vanishing “land lines” join the rotary-dial handset in museums. And local authorities would lose all say in the matter if the replacement is “wireless.” The airwaves, owned by all of the public and not just those living in cities or counties or states, are under federal jurisdiction. Washington’s rules could trump any local desires regarding zoning, historic vistas, safety or what-not if the justification is “the good of all the American people.”
What is now surfacing merely harkens back a couple of years to when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a “Notice of Inquiry” seeking responses on how it could “work with” cities “to improve policies for access to rights-of-way and for wireless facility siting.” No secret was made that such “work with” might include federal rules that override city/county/state management authority over cell towers and/or franchise fees.
THIS DID NOT pass unnoticed elsewhere, even though only recently gaining attention in Georgia. Besides the County Commission, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association there are already more than 200 cities on the federal record as opposed — along with the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.
Supporting it, to probably no one’s surprise, are 10 broadband/cellphone providers including AT&T.
Progress is almost always a good thing but this one brings up some interesting side issues worth wider contemplation.
For example, should cities/counties be required to grant a liquor-pouring license within 150 days or the approval to open a for-pay bar in your home open to all residential neighbors become automatic? Drinking is, after all, not against the law (well, at least inside the Rome city limits). Or, how’s about putting up a chicken coop and if Rome doesn’t provide permission within 150 days, or offer a suitable replacement site, it becomes legal?
And, while wireless may be the hot current thing so, at one time, was the telegraph. Anybody send a telegram lately? The poles and wires went up, then the telegraph lines later came down with often the same poles being used to string the wires for electricity, telephones and later cable. If human invention later finds a replacement for wireless, do the cell towers remain standing as newer historical artifacts as do some of the rusting derricks in the ancient oil fields out West?
AND IN PLACES like Greater Rome, where scenic sights and historical vistas are a big part of the attraction, if the local residents would prefer to communicate by smoke signals instead of cell towers why should they be denied the right to exercise such a choice without metal giants blocking the view?
It is always wise to look before leaping, particularly when it is the federal government actually saying “Jump!”