Gov. Newsom’s Balancing Act Between Local Control and Big Wireless

October 5, 2021 | Original Surviving Sacramento article here

Of the three Big Wireless sponsored legislation, one remains: Senate Bill 378

The California Public Utilities Commission has established rules regarding underground utility infrastructure — generally designed to prevent hitting a gas, electric, or other utility infrastructure. Senate Bill 378 requires local government to allow fiber-optic lines to be installed in narrow excavated trenches — microtrenches. SB 378 does NOT specify whether fiber installers would have to comply with the safety requirements established by the CPUC.

This past week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 537, which places strict timelines for cities and counties to review and respond to cell tower transmitter applications. If the local municipality cannot meet a 60-day timeline, according to AB 537, the application will be deemed approved, the permit considered issued, and the wireless company can start construction immediately.

The legislation is supported by Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, TowerCo, Crown Castle, and the Wireless Infrastructure Association.

Yet, Gov. Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 556, protecting local control over the placement, construction and operations of Wireless Telecommunications Facilities (WTFs) of any size or any “G”.

SB-556 would have compelled local governments to give Big Wireless nearly free access to the streetlight and traffic signal poles to install cell tower transmitters. This legislation would have overridden local agreements with Big Wireless, overridden local zoning laws, and severely limited control over when and where the “small” Wireless Telecommunications Facilities (sWTFs) would be constructed.

In his> Gov. Newsom said:

“I am returning Senate Bill 556 without my signature.

This bill would restrict the ability of local governments and publically-owned electric utilities to regulate the placement of small cell wireless facilities on public infrastructure and list the compensation that may be collected for use of these public assets.

In 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted many of the requirements that this bill seeks to codify. The provision of this bill, however, conflict with and complicate for of the FCC requirements. Further, it would be imprudent to codify these requirements in state law in the event the FCC revises them.”

It is hard to imagine Governor Newsom signing legislation that raises critical questions about micro-trenching fiber optic lines without appropriate safeguards established by the California Public Utilities Commission. These safeguards seek to prevent excavation projects from hitting the gas, electric, or other utility infrastructure. But then again, it has been a strange and wild 2021 legislative session.