Bad news for cities, their taxpayers and a possible safety hazard — these are some of the bottom line concerns about two bills currently winding their way through the Texas Legislature.
The bills in question are HB 2838 and SB 1004. According to their legislative captions, these identical companion bills relate “to the deployment of network nodes in public rights-of-way.” That is, they would set forth guidelines for the deployment of antennas and other telecommunications equipment within municipalities. But because HB 2838 and SB 1004 allow for private companies to be subsidized at taxpayer expense, cities and several city organizations — including the Texas Coalition of Cities for Utility Issues — have expressed opposition.
Municipalities for more than 100 years have charged private companies for the use of public right of way. This is a mutually advantageous arrangement, as it ultimately gives private companies access to broad swaths of property — but without having to purchase the property outright. Cities, in turn, can use their authority to guard against chaotic and potentially dangerous uncontrolled development that undermines the public welfare.
But HB 2838 and SB 1004 would upend this system by obligating cities to hand over right-of-way with much less regulatory control, and at rents well below market value. Under these bills wireless companies would have a freer hand to wantonly place 50-foot poles, antennas, electrical boxes, ground boxes and other equipment in municipal rights of way. The legislation also contemplates the attachment of wireless equipment on public street lights, street signs and traffic control devices.
City groups warn these bills create one-sided rules that subsidize companies, over the interest of taxpayers, and as a consequence will blow big holes in city budgets. Here are some of the specific concerns expressed by municipal groups:
- Third-party access to traffic control devices raises serious safety concerns. While the legislation includes some restrictions for these assets in residential areas, the bills do not include spacing restrictions to limit 50-foot-plus poles in rights of way. Neither does the legislation limit the number of antennas that could be placed on street signs.
- As written, any company has the right to come onto a city sidewalk and set up a wi-fi hot spot. This could lead to the proliferation of hundreds of antenna nodes on city poles — and eventually to thousands as the industry begins rolling out “5G” networks.
- This legislation is not needed, as many cities already have entered into license agreements to allow node sites. For example, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio/CPS have them. However, the bill would dramatically reduce rental rates and application fees, leading to losses to cities that could reach the hundreds of millions of dollars.
TCCFUI supports the broad dissemination of wireless technology, but we believe the roll out of such technology should be thoughtful and with adequate controls to protect the interests of citizens. That’s why TCCFUI opposes these bills, as currently drafted.