The mayor of San Jose, California has quickly become the latest lightning rod in a nationwide kerfuffle over small-cell deployments.
San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo penned an editorial in The New York Times last week decrying efforts by mobile network operators and their partners to reform policies enabling them to densify their networks by installing small cells and other transmitters on public rights of way.
That trend is highlighted in California’s SB 649, which would essentially give wireless companies the same rights as public utilities. It would enable carriers and infrastructure vendors to place transmitters in public rights-of-way, and would cap fees cities could charge to install their devices.
The bill, which is being pushed heavily by CTIA, was passed by California’s Assembly last month and has yet to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the bill.
“Public street poles may not look like much, but to wireless service providers, they’re valuable real estate,” Liccardo wrote in the Times editorial last week. “Companies like Verizon want low-cost access to them to install equipment to handle the rapidly growing demand for mobile data. But poles are owned locally, and cities and counties aren’t eager to give away access at below-market rates.”
Indeed, nearly 300 California mayors have voiced their opposition to the bill, including leaders from five of the largest cities in the state. But John Strand of Strand Consult—a Danish firm that provides reports and workshops for wireless companies—called Liccardo a “greedy” politician looking to leverage public rights-of-way to advance his own career.
“In his effort to climb the California political hierarchy, Liccardo will sacrifice vital mobile coverage and next generation networks in the name of helping the people and innovators of this important Silicon Valley city of 1 million people,” Strand wrote on his company’s website. “His idea: charge mobile carriers sky-high lease rates for access to street poles, then use that money to pay down the city’s mismanaged budget…. This is how the mayor rolls, taxing the goods and services consumed by people of San Jose without telling them.”
SB 649 has become something of a microcosm in the wireless industry as carriers and their partners continue to gain legislative momentum when it comes to small cells. Roughly a dozen states have already passed similar legislation to ease small-cell deployments, and the FCC appears eager to intervene on the federal level under Chairman Ajit Pai.
Whether Brown will sign SB 649 into legislation is anyone’s guess, but there’s no question that network operators are tracking the issue closely as they plot their small-cell strategies in the nation’s most populous state.