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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Bland

DOES TELECOM LOBBYING AT THE STATE LEVEL FORCE LOCAL GOVERNING BODIES TO ACCEPT UNREALISTIC TIMELINES?

STREAMLINING BROADBAND IS GOOD, BUT AT WHAT COST?


NAVIGATING THE FUTURE OF BROADBAND EXPANSION;

BALANCING SPEED AND COMMUNITY NEEDS


Recently, the WIA posted a blog highlighting Georgia and Kansas as model states for the streamlined permitting processes for broadband deployment. With the recent influx of federal (BEAD) funding to support broadband deployment, the debate surrounding expanding broadband infrastructure is now more relevant than ever. Because of this funding, there seems to be a limitless budget for lobbying at the state level by telecom groups. This has led to new approval standards, creating additional stress at the local government level. There is a need for permitting laws to be put in place that are straightforward without being overbearing for the majority of local communities. The new “standards” being pushed are not individually burdensome, but collectively, achieving them becomes extremely challenging. Let’s talk briefly about how meeting the requirements for Georgia’s model for a “broadband ready community”, in particular, can be challenging for local governments to manage.


Applicants must be informed if their application is deemed incomplete within ten

calendar days from date of submission.


For the majority of local governments, this will be difficult to achieve. Many of our

government clients are already resource constrained, so completing the application

reviews would be almost impossible within this time limit. It is important to note that this

timeline is “calendar” days, not “business” days. This makes the actual time available to

complete the application reviews even more difficult. Let’s say the application was

received on Friday afternoon. The impact of including Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

towards to the ten-day time limit only allows for five total working days (Monday-

Friday) of the following week before the application will automatically be deemed

complete unless the municipality notifies the applicant of deficiencies. This leads me to

the next point…


Once an application is deemed complete, it must either be accepted or rejected

within the next ten calendar days. If the municipality has not responded by close

of business on the tenth day, the application is automatically deemed approved.


Similar to the example above, once the application is deemed complete, a municipality

may only have five business days to review the completed application against their

design standards and render a final decision. Many communities have distinctive design

requirements depending on the area of the municipality and where the infrastructure is

located. This default approval would legally allow the applicant to install whatever

proposed design was in the submitted permit, regardless of compliance with specific local

standards. Many local governments may require outside help to meet the timeline,

leading to other challenges.


If municipalities choose to follow the Georgia model, municipalities will need to

justify charging more than $100 in fees. This is a cumulative amount so if another

level of government, either state or county has already charged the applicant, no

additional fees can be charged.


To meet the timelines the city may need to pay for outside help. Local governments often

operate under tight budgets and may not have the funds readily available to cover the

costs of external consultants or otherwise fund the additional workload. These financial

constraints can put them in a position where, without charging additional fees, they might

not be able to comply with the required review timelines. Without any means to cover

that additional cost, the municipalities may run out of the time allowed for review of

applications and allow for them to become statutorily approved.


A balanced Broadband Policy is needed to both streamline deployment and

protect local interests.


The conversation around broadband expansion must be multi-faceted, taking into account

speed, quality, local autonomy, and inclusivity. As technology evolves, so must the

policies and approaches to deploying this critical infrastructure. Policymakers must find a

middle ground that respects local governance while advancing national objectives of

widespread, high-quality internet access.


To comply with state regulations, local governments should:


  1. Limit permit application intake at permitting offices to maintain manageable workloads. Establishing a cap on the total number of concurrent applications could help streamline permit processing. There have been many examples of permit applications being delivered in very large batches at the same time. This is often a strategic decision by the applicant, knowing it would make it difficult to process that volume of applications within the allowable timeframe.

  2. Regularly review and update local zoning and permitting regulations to keep pace with the growing wireless and broadband infrastructure need. Broadband and wireless infrastructure owners are looking for clarity in regulations. Compliances is challenging when regulations are outdated o unclear.

  3. Consider investing in government-owned broadband infrastructure such as fiber or conduit systems, which can increase internet options for the community and attract businesses. We wouldn't advise local communities to become internet providers. We do advocate investing in broadband infrastructure as this streamlines the process for cellular development.

  4. Prepare for more state regulations due to intense telecom lobbying. It's critical to balance the urgency of digital expansion with local autonomy and community needs. The local communities' economic development is directly tied to the ability to move data. Proactively presenting a clear and understandable policy for responsible development will positively affect the community.




Cell Site Capital is a telecommunications advisory company focused on helping

clients expand digital capabilities and understand the market value of wireless and

broadband infrastructure.

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