In less than two months following Gov. Rick Scott’s signing of bills that paves the way for 5G technology throughout the state, Winter Park has received more than 20 requests for permits to erect poles within the city limits.
Local leaders say the bills — Senate Bill 596 and its House counterpart HB 687 — have taken power from municipal governments relating to regulating permit requests from telecommunication providers such as AT&T and Sprint.
“The wireless industry lobbied at the state level to have the state preempt cities from setting their own rules for these 5G networks — small cell networks — in their cities,” Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary said. “It basically preempted the cities from setting a certain price to the poles, it mandated that the cities could not restrict access to the rights-of-ways for these poles, so basically we have to open our rights-of-way up to the wireless networks to build these small cell network systems in our cities.”
“Local municipalities are not against technology improvements. We want the latest technology for our residents, but it has to be done on our terms. Nobody knows their local constituents better than the local leaders.”
— Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary
There are a slew of issues that have arrived with the new legislation, Leary said. The bill does not set into place a minimum distance between poles — which can be as tall as 50 feet. If one company puts a cell pole in a specific spot, then other companies can place poles in that same location — without local government oversight.
The bill also does not mandate a co-location requirement, which means municipal governments cannot require the companies to share cell poles.
“We could have repetitive poles just dropped in our rights-of-way around the city, and we have no say about it,” Leary said. “The state Legislature really took a shot at local home rule authority, which is a constitutionally guaranteed authority.”
Not only do local governments have little say, but they are also asked to accept applications in an expedited manner. The bill requires that if an application is not approved or denied “on a non-discriminatory basis” within 60-days of being received, it is automatically considered approved.
Another issue earning the outrage of mayors and city officials is the bill prohibits local government from requiring providers pay for routine maintenance fees — meaning the cost of upkeep rests on the cities and taxpayers.
Despite the bill, city leaders are attempting to control what they can. However, Winter Park already lost its battle relating to undergrounding utility poles.
“We’re going to spend upwards of $75 million to underground our electric utility, because we decided to put these poles underground not only for a liability sake, but we would also do it for aesthetics so we wouldn’t have poles all around the city,” Leary said. “And the state Legislature, in one fell swoop, just basically said, ‘This was more important, and we are going to mandate that you do this.’”
The city also has taken a few other approaches to address the issues, including amending the local ordinance regarding companies placing structures in the rights-of-way throughout the city.
“We are amending our ordinance to address and get more specificity to how they have to meet requirements within our city to put these poles up,” Leary said.
Winter Park also has submitted a joint resolution, alongside other cities in Orange County, to the Legislature to voice opposition to the bill.
Leary emphasized the city’s fight was not against the technology itself but rather the manner in which it is being implemented.
“Local municipalities are not against technology improvements,” he said. “We want the latest technology for our residents, but it has to be done on our terms. Nobody knows their local constituents better than the local leaders.”