As the time draws near for a vote on Senate Bill 426, a reminder to lawmakers that the decision made will have a lasting impact on every city and town across Georgia, and a request to look at facts and effects, not simply the will of private utilities in making a decision. (“Wireless antenna bill is latest threat to local control, Sandy Springs says,” March. 7.)
In communities like Sandy Springs, the right of way literally is part of a homeowners’ front yard. This bill allows private companies to come onto those properties and place a pole or electronic box resembling a refrigerator there without the owner’s permission or a permit by the local government.
Senate Bill 426 provides unfettered access to rights of way, neutering a city’s ability to provide any control over placement and deployment plans. It’s not only a matter of visual clutter; this bill squelches opportunities for enhanced performance and improved safety. Buried lines eliminate fire hazards, accidents and safety risks from outages due to downed lines. Under Senate Bill 426, there is no incentive for private industry to take the added steps or cost towards better safety and visual enhancements.
The right of way is publicly owned. It is paid for by the taxpayer. For more than 100 years, utilities have paid cities a franchise fee based on gross revenues. In Sandy Springs, we approve approximately 93 percent of all submissions for small cell installation. We charge no fee if the company has a franchise agreement with the city, and a one-time $235 per pole if the company lacks a franchise agreement. While supporters of this bill call these rates exorbitant and charge that they creates barriers, I differ in opinion. It simply provides appropriate citizen input and community oversight.
There are numerous uses for rights of way apart from creating broadband infrastructure. Right of way is used for storm drainage; traffic safety and control; sidewalks; bike trails; mass transit and bus stops; public art and more. By removing local control, Senate Bill 426 prohibits a city’s ability to set reasonable size limitations for antennas and poles and removes our ability to negotiate on placement sites. What is appropriate in a sparsely populated rural community is not necessarily so in a suburban/urban environment. One small-cell pole may not be offensive. However, add the multiplier of the varied companies and the number of poles needed per square foot to provide service, and can we honestly call that field of poles and wires aesthetically pleasing? An enhancement to the homeowner’s property value?
Municipalities and industry should work in partnership. Senate Bill 426 is not a partnership. In fact, it strips away the rights of our citizens.
Russell K. Paul
City of Sandy Springs