A legal challenge will be mounted against a bill allowing cell companies to mount equipment on Oberlin’s utility poles.
City council agreed March 20 to join more than 25 cities in a lawsuit against the state of Ohio, arguing Senate Bill 331 is unconstitutional.
Oberlin officials have hired the law firm Walter Haverfield to fight the bill, passed late last year. It originally dealt with pet store regulations but morphed to include provisions defining bestiality as a crime in Ohio, broadening the definition of what constitutes animal fighting, and dictating how municipalities must deal with micro-wireless network equipment in public rights of way.
“The lawsuit will challenge the constitutionality of SB 331 on the grounds that it violates the one subject requirement… of the Ohio Constitution,” Oberlin law director Jon Clark said in a memo to council. “And because it is applicable to municipalities only, it does not have statewide application and is therefore an infringement upon municipal home rule authority.”
The bill allows companies such as AT&T and Verizon to mount wireless hardware to city-owned utility poles without much input from the municipality.
“Everyone is familiar with 4G communication, it’s on everyone’s cell phone right now. It provides wireless access for email, Internet, and that sort of thing,” councilmember Bryan Burgess said. “Wireless carriers across the United States are now beginning to install the new 5G network, the next generation.
“Based on my rudimentary understanding of that technology, instead of having a single cell phone tower every five or so miles, it requires multiple, possibly hundreds, of smaller wireless broadcast units that are dispersed throughout a community. They’re very small, maybe about the size of a toaster.”
The companies don’t want to have to pay local fees for each pole equipment is mounted to, according to Burgess.
“The proposal here is that for the public good these private, for-profit communication companies can place their infrastructure on public right-of-way utility poles for free,” he said.
“That doesn’t seem fair to me, and that’s why I support going ahead with what we can to get our fair share of the wireless market.”
The bill doesn’t leave municipalities without authority in the matter, though.
Cities can enact provisions for pre-approval meetings, design guidelines, incentives for following aesthetic guidelines, and incorporation of traffic safety setbacks, according to Clark, who called for council to enact just such as ordinance.
Scott Mahoney can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @sm_mahoney on Twitter.