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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017 1:00 am

City acts quickly to block state's overreach

City acts quickly to block state's overreach

Senate Enrolled Act 213, a law limiting Indiana cities' authority to regulate placement of cellular equipment in the public right of way, was signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb on May 2. But the deadline for municipalities to create special utility districts protecting their regulatory authority came two days earlier.

Fort Wayne and other cities throughout the state had to rush to create the districts or be hamstrung by the new law. Policy set under pressure doesn't serve anyone well. Hoosiers deserve representation by state officials who are good partners with local government. 

“Without acting today, the city would be without any ability to regulate wireless support structures or small-cell infrastructure poles being placed in the right of way, up to 50 feet in height,” City Attorney Carol Helton told an April 28 special meeting of the Fort Wayne Board of Public Works. “And keep in mind that small-cell infrastructure could go up to 120 feet in height.”

The law is another inspired by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC called its proposal a “Resolution Encouraging the Support of Infrastructure Buildout to Pave the Pathway for Next Generation Networks.”

Others call the structures eyesores. The next generation of cell technology uses smaller antennas but in much denser placement. Contractors hired by Verizon and other cellular providers have been installing the equipment to provide customers with faster downloads. 

When residents have complained about posts placed in front of homes, the companies generally have beenaccommodating in moving them to less-obtrusivelocations. But the new law, without the utility district protection, would have allowed them to place the poles in any public right of way. City Council representatives and other local government officials would have had no leverage in seeking a compromise for aesthetic or safety reasons.

Under the resolutionapproved last month, all of Fort Wayne is now designated an underground and buried utility district. The measure can be amended to remove portions of the district, but no areas can be added after the May 1 deadline. Utilities and wireless providers seeking to install structures within the district's boundaries now must have a waiver from the Board of Public Works.

The law requires the district to allow co-location on existing poles and must allow utilities and providers to replace existing poles. 

A top-down approach to local government policy is increasingly the norm for the Indiana General Assembly, whether it's regulation of utility poles, plastic bag bans or gun laws. Hoosiers deserve better.