California approves law to speed up wireless infrastructure deployment

California's new law designed to speed up the deployment of wireless infrastructure should make life easier for installers across the Golden State.

Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed the bill known as AB 57 into law on Oct. 9, which ensures that California follows the same rules the FCC set out in its 2009 "shot clock" regulation for infrastructure. The law states that a wireless facility collocation or new site application will be "deemed approved" if several conditions are met.

Those include if a city or county fails to approve or disapprove the application "within a reasonable period of time in accordance with the time periods and procedures established by applicable FCC decisions." Those deadlines are 90 days to process applications for collocated facilities and 150 days for new sites. Additionally, the infrastructure company or carrier seeking approval for the facility needs to have "provided all public notices regarding the application that the applicant is required to provide under applicable laws consistent with the public notice requirements for the application."

The applicant must also have "provided notice to the city or county that the reasonable time period has lapsed and that the application is deemed approved pursuant to this section." Within 30 days of that notice the city or county may seek judicial review of the application. The law does not apply to eligible facilities requests.

PCIA praised the law, arguing that it will help improve Californian's wireless service and "spark economic development at a local level for businesses directly involved in broadband deployment, such as tower technicians and electricians."

"Wireless services and mobile devices are an indispensable part of California's society and economy," PCIA President Jonathan Adelstein said in a statement. "To continue meeting consumer demand and strengthen personal and business communications, California will need better and more sophisticated wireless facilities. Governor Brown has paved the way for Californians to enjoy better connectivity, improved public safety and increased broadband capacity."

Robert Jystad, president of the California Wireless Association, said in in an interview with FierceInstaller that for years California has been a challenging environment in which to deploy wireless infrastructure. Part of that, he said, is due to some communities' fears about the potential health dangers of RF emissions. CTIA has argued such fears are overblown and that the FCC and Food and Drug Administration have repeatedly found that cell phone use does not pose a danger to human health. However, Jystad also said that process of getting permits and approvals for new infrastructure deployments at a local level has become politicized.

"As soon as there was any opposition, lawmakers and decision makers would get nervous about the repercussion of approving permits," he said, adding that people who had concerns about the health effects of RF emissions were able to, in some municipalities, "get politicians nervous about approving permits."

Jystad acknowledged that there are other concerns at play in picturesque California, with residents in some communities concerned about the appearance of wireless facilities. "It's a coastal state," he said. "Aesthetics are important out here."

However, he said the problem the wireless industry and its infrastructure partners ran into in California is that even in cases where aesthetics were not an issue, those who opposed new facilities because of their concerns about RF emissions could say they were concerned about aesthetics.

In 2009 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which govern California, ruled that city officials in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., a wealthy seaside community south of Los Angeles, could bar what they considered unsightly cell towers on aesthetic grounds.

Now, Jystad said, the pendulum has swung back in favor of carriers and infrastructure providers. "What 'deemed approved' does is it shifts the balance," he said. "Because now it's the jurisdiction that has to take you to court if it doesn't take action in that timeframe."

"It became so difficult to construct out here that you needed something, and the legislature recognized: You needed more legal leverage," he added.

Executives at wireless carriers and infrastructure providers have long bemoaned some California cities as being difficult to operate and get network gear deployed in due to complex zoning ordinances and restrictions and a slow approval process, especially San Francisco. Jystad said that it's unclear whether AB 57 will directly lead to more cell sites being approved and deployed. It might push more municipalities to approve applications because they do not want to fight a deployment in court, he said.  

It used to take 12 to 18 months to get a single site approved in some cities, Jystad noted, and said that is now down to a maximum of 150 days. "Throughout the state it is going to speed up decision making," he said. "Whether more sites are approved as a result of AB 57 is something that remains to be seen."

For more:
- see this California Legislative Info page 
- see this LegiScan page

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