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Montgomery County Files FCC Comments and Pushes NACo to Defend Counties from Attacks on Local Zoning Authority for Small Cell Facilities

ROCKVILLE, MD., March 9, 2017—Montgomery County filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as part of the national Smart Communities Siting Coalition opposing a petition filed by telecommunications infrastructure company Mobilitie.

The petition filed by Mobilitie challenges local governments’ authority to manage the placement of, and charge rent for, communication facilities on public roads, sidewalks, and streetlights. The County filed Supplemental Comments indicating the County’s wireless policy has been successful. The County also asked that the FCC – which has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate radio frequency (RF) emissions – focus on completing the proceeding it opened four years ago to address the health effects on humans of RF emissions from telecommunications services.

This action comes on the heels of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, County Council Vice President Hans Riemer, and Council President Roger Berliner successfully sponsoring a National Association of Counties (NACo) policy resolution that opposed efforts at the Federal and State levels to preempt local zoning authority for the siting of “small cell” wireless facilities.

“We recognize that some amendment to our zoning code may be needed to address small cell facilities, which may need to be deployed deeper in neighborhoods than macro cell technology,” said Riemer. “But communities should have a say over how the infrastructure is deployed, and we should be able to charge a reasonable fee for commercial use of our roads and sidewalks. We can reach a win-win solution that enables deployment while preserving community interests.”

In the filing, the County states it is unreasonable that the Commission leaves it to local government to explain to constituents why the Commission has not updated its radio RF emission standards in 20 years. The County also points out that the FCC has neglected, in four years, to complete its work on this very issue, while simultaneously finding time, at the request of industry, to consider whether more preemption of local decision-making for small cell deployments is necessary.

“Montgomery County must retain the ability to protect residents’ interest in not crowding neighborhoods with new poles.” said Leggett. “I am confident we can do so without sacrificing our goal to keep Montgomery County the most connected County in America. But local solutions, not federal preemption, are the answer.”

Montgomery County has worked constructively with residents and the wireless industry, reviewing 2,900 applications over 20 years. To date, 1,121 wireless facilities are deployed in 534 unique locations within the County.

“We must send a clear message that any preemption efforts at the Federal or State level on this matter are not in the best interests of our County’s residents,” Berliner said. “Our County needs to retain our authority to reduce the adverse impacts of small cell towers on our residents and determine what can be done to protect the quality of life of our neighborhoods.”

More small cells are needed to meet growing demand for wireless broadband. Small cells are installed as lower heights than existing tall “macrocell” telecommunications towers. Macrocell equipment is dumpster size, whereas small cell equipment is 120-qt camping cooler size. Montgomery County has received applications for more than 250 small cell antennas in 6 months, and anticipates another 500 applications in the next 18 months.

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