Council addresses technological advances
A new kind of electrical device will start appearing across the city that promises technological advancement but will likely cost thousands of dollars to the public.
Last year, Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1004, which allows private telecommunication companies to install and operate cell phone antennas, or nodes, in public spaces with little oversight by and compensation to local municipal authorities.
Acting on the state law, on Oct.15, Burleson City Council adopted an ordinance and design standards as the rules for a private company vying to setup cell nodes/broadband antennas to improve and provide 5G cellular technology in public right-of-way in the area.
As compared to other existing technologies, which mostly require large cell phone towers and buildings, 5G technology is the more advanced and efficient wireless network and Internet service, and can be installed in smaller outlets.
“Yes, the public benefits, perhaps, by having faster communication,” said Deputy City Manager Paul Cain, who specializes in information technology. “But, the public is essentially giving away an asset to a private company, and not being compensated for it.”
The cell nodes may be attached to existing city-owned poles for utilities, traffic signals, street lights, or may be installed in a stand-alone pole. Companies like Verizon, AT&T and Sprint have already deployed the nodes in cities across the nation.
The state law has capped the fee for renting per location at $250 annually. Previously, the cost of renting such public properties was negotiated at much higher rates.
According to Texas Municipal League, cities were charging an annual fee of up to $2,500 per location, while private property owners were able to charge more than $5,000 per location in open market.
Burleson’s City Council ordinance also mirrors the $250 rental cap.
“They are giving away a public asset for private use without fair compensation to the public,” Cain said.
The city has not estimated the exact cost the change in law would bring about to Burleson and its residents, but Cain said it certainly will have financial drawbacks.
About 40 Texas cities, led by city of McAllen, have come together to file a lawsuit against the state and the law. Texas Municipal League, which supports the lawsuit, estimates the potential loss to Texas cities from giving up the right-of-way fees could exceed $800 million per year.
“Their (the lawsuit’s) argument is that the limitation of the city amount established by the legislature is unconstitutional,” Cain said. “It is, in effect, a free gift of public assets for a private use.”
Burleson is currently not involved in the lawsuit or suing the state over the law. But it is “something we are evaluating right now,” Cain said.
Last month, the Federal Communications Commission also approved orders similar to the state legislature’s that enables cell phone companies to install the nodes on public infrastructure. The federal order requires cities to not charge more than $270 per year to rent out spaces in properties like light poles and traffic lights.
FCC said the decision will help save the telecommunication industry about $2 billion.
“Today, the FCC took the next step to further strengthen the United States’ lead in the race to 5G by adopting a framework for permitting and fees that will foster more widespread and robust infrastructure investment,” Joan Marsh, AT&T executive vice president of regulatory and state external affairs said in a statement after the FCC ruling.