Often times, local policies and ordinances can hinder or discourage the deployment of broadband infrastructure, whether intentionally or not. The balancing of community aesthetics and protection of the public’s health, safety, and welfare can often be a point of contention between municipalities and ISPs. Tower siting, height restrictions, excessive fees and timelines for accessing the right-of-way, and pole attachments, among others, are common examples of local barriers to deployment cited by ISPs. The following provide resources on a variety of topics related to local policies, ordinances, and practices and broadband deployment.
There are several passive and proactive ways municipalities can work with ISPs to create a broadband friendly ecosystem for deployment. Collocation, conduit installation, dig once, data and process transparency, microtrenching, and tower regulations are a sample of the topics that could be addressed at a local level. The following guide provides a deeper understanding of such topics along with examples of communities that have addressed them: http://connectmycommunity.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Local-Policy-Guide.pdf.
The FCC balances state and local authority for zoning and land use decisions related to towers with the needs of ISPs to locate equipment at heights necessary for the efficient use of their technology. This site offers explanations and resources from the FCC on several aspects of tower and antenna siting: https://www.fcc.gov/wireless/bureau-divisions/competition-infrastructure-policy-division/tower-and-antenna-siting.
In 2002, Michigan passed the Metropolitan Extension Telecommunications Rights-of-Way Oversight Act (METRO Act) to streamline access to the right-of-way for telecommunications providers in cities across the state, (the METRO Act does not apply to county rights-of-way). The METRO Act is administered by the Local Community Stabilization Authority (LCSA) and more information on this act and its impact on communities can be found here: http://www.localcommunitystabilizationauthoritymi.gov/metro_act/.
Public Act 97 of 2018 sets fee limits for telecommunications projects within the right-of-way of a county road, requires either a security or right-of-way bond to secure the performance allowed in a permit authorizing the project in the right-of-way, and requires that a provider maintain general liability insurance. These fee limits are expected to encourage broadband deployment in rural areas where rights-of-way are often controlled by county road commissions. More information on this act can be found here: https://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2017-2018/publicact/pdf/2018-PA-0097.pdf.
Emmet County, Michigan
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Radio towers allow ISPs to transfer wireless Internet signals across wide distances, providing broadband service to both smartphones and homes. Emmet County, Michigan, is making it easier to put up more towers and use existing buildings to transmit wireless broadband signals, reaching more residents by revising zoning laws. While zoning ordinances preserve the natural beauty of the landscape, they also make it difficult for ISPs to install new towers and new technology. The Emmet County Planning and Zoning Commission recently revised their zoning regulations to maintain the natural landscape while still enhancing broadband access.
Revising the zoning ordinance was first suggested by representatives from a group of townships in the county, and also by an interested ISP. Originally, the townships and ISP recommended reducing red tape for even taller towers, up to 100 feet. To protect the beautiful rural landscape throughout Emmet County and accommodate all 12 townships, administrators met in the middle with easier access for shorter towers. Finding a successful middle ground, the new zoning ordinances also make co-location easier, by allowing placement of transmission hardware on top of existing towers and other buildings. With the ability to approve towers under 60 feet through administrative approval, ISPs can build new towers without going through months of red tape.
“It brought to the planning commission’s attention that there is a need for broadband in our rural areas,” said Tammy Doernenburg, Emmet County Planning and Zoning Director. “It also brought all of our townships together so everyone would be aware of this need.”
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