by Phil Yacuboski
It’s legislation that could pump millions into the Pennsylvania economy and pick up the pace on mobile technology that some argue is sorely needed. Others argue the legislation is subsidizing an industry that doesn’t need the money and could ruin the look of local history.
For years, communication giants Verizon and AT&T have lobbied federal and Pennsylvania state legislators to simplify the rules on cell phone antennas, allowing for a better network and 5G technology in telecommunications and broadband infrastructure.
“As industries across all sectors evolve, we are seeing more and more of an emphasis on cloud and other technologies so having a better infrastructure that can carry a lot more data a lot more quickly is paramount to Pennsylvania and the country’s ability to compete economically,” said Kevin Sunday, director of government affairs, for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
Sunday testified before lawmakers in Harrisburg, arguing that better broadband would carry things like driver-less cars, telemedicine and advancements in other fields to the tune of $3.5 billion.
He said better technology means more business and more jobs in Pennsylvania.
“That could be tens of thousands of new jobs,” he said. “We need to upgrade it to keep younger people here. Plenty of young people go to college here, but then leave once college is finished. We need to reverse that.”
Wireless companies would be allowed to place small ‘backpack’ type devices in areas that publicly controlled right-of-ways – thousands of them. They would also have to buy permits for installation. The Pennsylvania Municipal League argues it’s a giveaway to the telecommunications companies.
Similar legislation has failed twice before.
“Parochialism is a pastime in Pennsylvania,” he said. “We have a hard time looking at new things. There are legitimate concerns in historic towns in Pennsylvania and we don’t want to give carte blanche to the telecommunications companies to put these things everywhere. And that’s recognized in the legislation. It won’t cost some towns their local character.”
The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Frank Farry, R-Bucks County and subcommittee chairman on telecommunicaions. He argues the antennas would be placed on already existing structures.
“I think we might be putting the cart before the horse here,” Rep. Robert Matzie, D-Aliquippa, told a House hearing. “I’m not happy with the process.”
He continued to question lawmakers and said the legislation was given to him late, hence he didn’t have time to read it over to form the proper questions.
“We are neutral on it,” said David Sanko executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. “We are trying to push the fee structure higher to match the FCC limits and I think that’s where the legislature is going to end up.”
He said he wants to make sure the antennas are not placed in places that could be traffic hazards, places that municipalities control.
“We want to make sure when they come, they are safe,” he said.
He said they would like them to be put on existing structures and where they can’t be located on such areas, they would have to go through the zoning process.
“Just like everybody else,” he said.
The legislation still has to wind its way through several other committees before moving forward.
“We are hopeful we can be supportive in the end,” said Sanko, “because it’s necessary. But from a local government perspective, there are still some concerns. Pennsylvania’s geography and geology make signaling difficult.”