LANSING – Telecommunications industry representatives told Michigan lawmakers Thursday legislation to cap permit fees for right-of-way access to utility poles for placement of infrastructure or for work on projects along county roads would reduce barriers to installing technology upgrades and expanding service to new customers.
Sen. Joe Hune (R-Whitmore Lake) told fellow members of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee his bill, SB 637, would set statewide standards for companies looking to install new small wireless technology efficiently in existing right-of-ways.
SB 637 would create a Small Wireless Communications Facilities Deployment Act allowing providers to collocate small cell wireless facilities and work on utility poles inside a right-of-way. The bill would also streamline the infrastructure installation process.
The small devices are meant to be installed on existing cell towers to improve cellphone and computer service as demand grows. Hune said the state needs to “keep up with the future of technology.”
Fees for installing small cell wireless facilities would be capped at $100 per device for up to five devices in an application and $50 for each additional one. Hune said having a price that does not provide a barrier to their installation is important. He cited a proposed $2,000 annual permit cost floated in Buffalo, New York, in recent months as an example of excessive rates for companies that may need to install upgrades on tens of thousands of poles.
Industry officials in support of SB 637 told the committee the permitting process can be slow and cumbersome, saying streamlining would help, as would having a fair fee cap in place.
The committee also heard testimony on SB 636, a bill relating to permit fees for broadband projects.
Bill sponsor Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) said it would cap county road commission fees at the current $300 per permit and $1,000 total for all permits per project for projects in the right-of-way of a county road. It would also ban road commissions from requiring permits for performing routine maintenance or repairs more than once per year, with such permit fees being capped at $300.
Road commissions would also be banned from requiring bonds of more than $20,000 as well as from requiring more than one security bond or right-of-way bond per project, among other changes.
“Government must get out of the way,” Zorn said of requiring excessive or duplicative fees.
Scott Stevenson with the Telecommunications Association of Michigan cited multiple projects that association members have delayed or axed for providing broadband service to residents in areas just outside of city limits in multiple counties. He said excessive fees and bonding requirements were to blame.
“These fees matter,” Stevenson said.
County Road Association of Michigan Deputy Director Ed Noyola said efforts are already underway at standardizing fees within the association. He said incidents like those cited by Stevenson should be reported to the association for investigation. Noyola said the organization is willing to work with utility groups on the issue.
“We’re not here to make money,” Noyola said, but to cover the costs for project impacts on public right-of-ways.
This story was published by Gongwer News Service.