T-Mobile scores Supreme Court victory in tower-siting case

The Supreme Court handed T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) and the wider wireless industry a victory today via a ruling in a case centering on how local governments must inform wireless carriers, tower companies and others about why they reject tower-construction requests.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court said that local governments like the one in Roswell, Ga., that is at the center of the case must provide a written explanation in a timely fashion about why they deny construction requests. However, that explanation doesn't need to be included in the initial denial letter.

Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the Supreme Court's ruling.

The case goes back to 2010, when a T-Mobile subsidiary was blocked from constructing a 108-foot tall cell tower in Roswell. According to reports on the topic, Roswell officials alerted T-Mobile of the decision but did not provide a written explanation. They said the reason would be provided in the minutes of their meeting--those minutes were provided to T-Mobile 26 days after the meeting.

A federal trial judge sided with T-Mobile in its initial lawsuit on the topic, arguing the municipality violated federal communications law that says government officials need to provide a denial "in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record." But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Atlanta, overruled that and said that the city met the federal requirement by issuing a general denial letter and then, later, a transcript of hearings that led to the denial. Other appeals courts have issued differing rulings on what local governments must do to meet the "in writing" requirement.

The Supreme Court's decision today helps clarify how local governments must respond to tower construction requests by wireless carriers and others.

The ruling represents the latest victory by the wireless industry in its push to increase the speed of network buildouts. In October, the FCC voted to approve new rules designed to accelerate the deployment of wireless infrastructure, something carriers and the infrastructure industry have been clamoring for as operators look to densify their networks with new small cells, Distributed Antenna Systems and other network equipment.

For more:
- see this CNBC article

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