Alert: Wireless Industry Drafts Bill to Eliminate Zoning of Towers and Antennas in the Public Rights-of-Way

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Our law firm represents local governments in cable, telecom, and wireless matters and it is
a priority for us to inform our clients regarding important issues. We recently learned that
four wireless companies (Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile) have drafted a bill for
introduction in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that would: 1) strip municipalities of
their right to control the construction and location of wireless facilities in the public rightsof-way; and 2) effectively eliminate the right of municipalities to assess fees for such
The biggest change in wireless facilities in the last several years has been wireless towers
and antennas placed in the public rights-of-way. Known as “distributed antenna systems”
or “DAS,” they boost capacity to meet consumer demand for wireless broadband service.
In addition to antennas on existing utility poles, a DAS system usually includes new towers
that can be up to 120 feet in height. Industry experts predict that the number of DAS towers
and antennas in the rights-of-way will grow exponentially over the next several years. Many
PA municipalities have amended their Zoning Codes to address these new facilities while
still being able to manage their rights-of-way and preserve the character of their
The bill has the benign title of the “Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act,” but it is
anything but benign. If enacted, it would prohibit municipalities from using their zoning
authority to control the construction and location of towers and antennas in the rightsof-way. It would also make it nearly impossible for municipalities to assess fees or
negotiate rental payments for those facilities. This means that a wireless contractor such
as Mobilitie would be permitted by state law to install 120-foot towers along any roads in
your municipality, including in residential areas, and there would be nothing that you could
do to stop them. The only document that you could require for the company would be a
building permit.
Your municipality’s zoning authority is its most important tool to control development. Its
public rights-of-way are its most important physical asset. If the State Legislature and
Governor eliminate your zoning authority over wireless facilities, then other portions of your
Zoning Code could be the next to fall, and if they weaken your power to manage your
rights-of-way, then other municipal powers could be in danger in the future.
The wireless industry is well financed and has hired numerous lobbyists to secure passage
of this bill. It is critical that PA municipalities rally to oppose it. We are in discussions now
with the Pennsylvania municipal associations and expect that there will be an aggressive
effort to stop this bill from ever becoming law. This is simply an informational alert, but you
can expect to receive an Action Alert from us soon that recommends specific steps to
oppose the legislation. In the meantime, please feel free to contact Dan Cohen or
Natausha Horton if you have any questions. Our contact information is below.

Daniel S. Cohen
Natausha M. Horton
Cohen Law Group
413 S. Main Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15215
Phone: (412) 447-0130
Fax: (412) 447-0129

The Cohen Law Group is a law firm that represents municipalities in cable, wireless, and
broadband matters.

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