In the biggest telecom power grab so far to remove local authority in zoning for broadband expansion, California legislators have authored a stack of telecom bills, many of which are poised to benefit industry while overlooking health, safety and environmental consequences, as well as democracy. Big Telecom isn’t messing around anymore. Under the guise of “closing the digital divide” in underserved and rural areas after the pandemic, many of the 20 bills are give aways to industry and do not focus attention on safer and more equitable solutions, such as fiberoptic to premises, to expand much needed broadband to all. The Big FourTelecom bills include SB 556 (Dodd), SB 378 (Gonzalez), AB 537 (Quirk), and AB 955 (Quirk). As of Sept 10, 2021 these bills are now on the Governor’s desk and he has until Oct 10th to sign them. Governor Newsom is likely being heavily lobbied by industry and some legislators. The California League of Cities continues to be opposed to at least SB 556 and states, “Despite securing amendments that narrow aspects of the bill to conform with federal law, the measure still undermines local authority and makes no meaningful progress towards closing the digital divide.”
In addition, AB 537 (Quirk) has an exemption for firefighters for placing cell towers on their facilities. Firefighters developed neurologic effects (headaches, fatigue, memory impairment, insomnia) when cell towers were placed on their fire stations thus an exemption was inserted in California bills on cell towers. AB 57 (Quirk 2015) has an exemption on the grounds of health effects. AB 537 (Quirk 2021) also has this exemption and reads, “Due to the unique duties and infrastructure requirements for the swift and effective deployment of firefighters, this section does not apply to a collocation or siting application for a wireless telecommunications facility where the project is proposed for placement on fire department facilities.
SB 649 (Hueso, Quirk and Dodd 2018) is a bill similar to currently proposed SB 556 (Dodd 2021) also had a health exemption for firefighters and was vetoed by Governor Brown.
UPDATE 10/4/21 Governor Newsom Vetoes SB 556 and signs AB 537
Governor Newsom Vetoed SB 556 (Dodd) and signed into law AB 537 (Quirk) . Here is a list of bills signed and vetoed on Oct 4, 2021 with the Governor’s veto message. Here is an Analysis of SB 556 by Best, Best, & Krieger, Attorneys at Law. The California Senate Floor Analysis of SB 556 states,
“Opponents raise a variety of concerns associated with this bill. Opponents claim that this bill could have negative consequences for public health, safety, and cybersecurity due to the technologies deployed. Opponents also argue that this bill conflicts with the FCC’s regulations, creates ambiguities about local fees for utility attachments, and limits local governments’ ability to regulate access to public rights of way without enabling local governments to effectively enforce consumer protections. In opposition, the League of California Cities states, “SB 556 directly conflicts with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) adopted regulations on wireless services deployment, which cities and counties across the nation are actively implementing. This measure requires local governments to make space available to telecommunications providers without recognizing local authority to manage the public right of way preserved in federal law. FCC regulations explicitly enable local governments to ensure that such installations meet appearance and design standards, maintain traffic safety, protect historical resources’ integrity, and safeguard citizens’ quality of life. To protect the public’s investment, the control of the public rights of way must remain local.”
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