2/1/19 Editorial

(Published 2/1/19)

With the 2018 FCC ruling stripping state and local jurisdictions of authority over the placement of small cell phone towers, Ocean City government is in a tight spot as it tries to control Crown Castle’s plan to install its towers in the public rights of way.

Many residents, for obvious reasons, don’t want these poles standing in front of their homes and they  expect the mayor and City Council to back them up in this regard. 

Although local officials might want to do that, the FCC’s regulation gives them no power to do anything beyond registering their disapproval. 

The reason for the FCC’s push to get communications companies to make like Johnny Appleseed and plant a forest of small cell nodes all over the country is because it wants to establish a solid 5G network infrastructure. If communities don’t like that, well, it’s just too bad.

Crown Castle’s rigs aren’t 5G, but could be, according to what its reps told the City Council. But that isn’t the problem, which is that a competing company or companies could arrive with their posthole diggers and add more towers to the landscape, regardless of what local government says.

That’s why cities such as Seattle, Austin, Portland and others have asked the federal courts to review the regulation. Tom Cochran, CEO of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, issued a statement that put it this way: “The FCC action misapplies federal law to federalize local public property” by giving companies special rights to public property.

It isn’t that the country doesn’t need 5G wireless communications, when the rest of the world is racing to get it as well, but the federal government should not treat this like the Oklahoma Land Rush, when a noon signal in 1889 declared that public property was up for grabs.

There’s much to be said for the City Council trying to delay approval for as long as possible, and even just saying no to Crown Castle until the FCC ruling goes through the courts.

The purpose would not be to block Crown Castle or any other company, but to say, look, we understand and will work with you, but we have to do it in a way that reflects the needs of our community and its neighborhoods.

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