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Missouri cities urge veto of cellphone tower bill

Updated: 2013-06-08T04:33:05Z

The Associated Press

— An association of Missouri cities on Friday urged Gov. Jay Nixon to veto legislation limiting their ability to regulate cellphone towers, citing concerns that a proliferation of unsightly structures near homes or historic town squares could hurt property values.

The veto request by the Missouri Municipal League comes after the Missouri legislature passed the measure with strong bipartisan support during its annual session that concluded last month.

Lawmakers said they want to encourage the expansion of wireless Internet service without forcing companies to comply with a hodgepodge of different and potentially costly local requirements.

Nixon’s administration has promoted the expansion of high-speed Internet service into rural areas. But the governor also has sometimes sided with cities in local control disputes. For example, he vetoed a bill in 2011 that would have prohibited city ordinances banning billboards before signing a less restrictive billboard measure the following year.

A Nixon spokesman declined to say Friday whether he has concerns about the legislation limiting local cellphone tower regulations.

“At this point, I can only assure you that the bill will receive a comprehensive review,” Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said in an email.

Bill sponsors said the legislation was prompted by concerns from cellphone service providers that have been expanding their high-speed networks across the nation to accommodate customers who use wireless devices to access data from the Internet.

“When you have to deal with a thousand different rules from a thousand different municipalities, you end up with a lot of overhead,” said Rep. Rocky Miller, a Republican from Tuscumbia. “Some municipalities were charging exorbitant permit fees and bringing in experts (to evaluate cellphone tower applications). We needed to get a handle on that, so that we have some consistency and standards for the industry.”

The legislation pending before Nixon includes a wide-ranging list of 18 things that cities, counties and the state would be prohibited from doing when regulating cellphone towers.

For example, governments would be barred from evaluating applications for cellphone towers based on whether there were other possible locations or whether a company could have instead added its equipment to an existing tower used by a competitor. They also could not require companies to remove existing wireless facilities as a condition of building new ones.

When governments hire consultants to provide technical advice about applications for wireless towers, the legislation would prohibit applicants from being charged more than $500 for a request to add wireless devices to an existing tower and no more than $1,500 to build a new tower.

Many cities must hire such consultants because they do not have their own staff with such engineering expertise, said Richard Sheets, the deputy director of the Missouri Municipal League, which represents more than 670 cities. Those consultants can cost as much as $10,000, he said.

The fee cap “prevents cities from really doing a thorough review,” Sheets said.

Cities also want greater authority to encourage new wireless antennas to be added to existing towers or to be built in aesthetically pleasing ways, such as to resemble a flagpole.

“Cities absolutely support and encourage the deployment of broadband and wireless 4G and those types of technologies, because our citizens want it,” Sheets said. “What they’re trying to do is ensure — as with any type of land use development — the structure is safe and it doesn’t adversely affect property values.”

Rep. Doug Funderburk, chairman of the House Utilities Committee, said he thought lawmakers had addressed most of the concerns of city officials while crafting the final version of the bill, except for the provision prohibiting cities from requiring new devices to be attached to existing towers.

Funderburk, a Republican from St. Peters, said that should be an engineering decision, but he feared it could become a “political decision” if left to city officials.

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