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TREASURE ISLAND – While under state law there is little a city can do to regulate placement of 5G wireless antennas on utility poles, city commissioners would still like to exert some control on communications providers that install equipment in their right of way.

During a work session on Tuesday, May 15, Paula Cohen, community improvement director, told commissioners “the whole telecommunications industry continues to change and it’s hard to keep up with innovations.”

The telecommunications industry is now placing small booster antennas on existing poles to improve cell service. Therefore, the city is proposing changes to regulate those communications providers working within the city’s right of way.

However, the state has restricted how much local governments can regulate antenna providers.

“Local governments were directed to only regulate the placement and maintenance of communication facilities in a manner which was reasonable, and nondiscriminatory. Cities could address those matters necessary to manage its rights of way,” Cohen said.

For example, a communications company must register with the city to install an antenna in the right of way and notify a municipality if a change in operational ownership takes place, she added.

Under Florida law, “a city cannot request more information than is necessary for an applicant to demonstrate their compliance with the placement of small wireless facilities, or direct the placement of a wireless facility to any specific utility pole or series of poles. Cities also cannot impose minimum separation distances.”

Commissioner Heidi Horak noted Treasure Island may find itself with several antenna providers all placing wireless facilities on poles throughout the city.

“Who would remove a wireless antenna if the company that installed it was no longer in operation?” Horak asked.

She asked staff if companies could be forced to provide a performance bond, which could be used if a company could no longer maintain its antenna.

“I’m worried about a large volume of abandoned facilities, when we move on to the next generation of whatever we have. And, it just getting messy on some of these poles for other utilities to do what they need to do,” Horak said.

“We may have a bankrupt organization; they may have outsourced their workers to an independent contractor that we are having trouble with,” Horak explained. “What kind of backup do we have from a monetary standpoint? The cost of taking these things down if we have to is going to be astronomical.”

“These providers are not regulated,” Horak noted. “The state opened it up to every provider. It’s like dealing with every contactor; they are not all wonderful and they are not all going to be around in five years.”

“I would like to see the city manager to have more discretion to deal with these providers, because it’s like the wild west of telecommunications,” Horak added.

City Attorney Jennifer Cowan said she would research whether the city could require a bond, but she did not think that idea was permitted by state law.

“In the ordinance there is certain information that they are required to provide and if they don’t, or if the city has determined they are not in compliance, then the city can deny the registration going forward,” Cowan said. “So, you do have the ability to say you haven’t been complying with the ordinance.”

Cities that have asked for a performance bond have been found to not be in compliance with the state law, the city attorney advised.

In her report, Cohen noted there is a process for termination of a permit granted to a wireless operator, if that becomes necessary.  

“There are provisions addressing abandoned facilities in the right of way that are no longer in use,” she explained. “A wireless provider must remove unused facilities or the city can remove it at the operator’s expense.”

A city can only deny an application from a wireless provider if it “materially interferes with safe operation of traffic control equipment, or interferes with sight lines or clear zones for transportation,” Cohen added.

Horak also voiced concern that there would be a glut of wireless antennas atop poles and they could be placed anywhere in the city, such as next to homes.

Commissioner Deborah Toth said she would like the revision to include a provision restricting color standards, so antenna boxes atop poles are not multicolored.

Commissioner Tyler Payne noted under the revision the antenna box has to be a similar design and color to the pole.

Cohen said she would bring photos of the booster antenna structures to the first reading of the city’s revised ordinance on May 29.