Skip to main content
Join Now

< Back to All

Small Cell Legislation Bounces To Senate Floor

March 13, 2018

Legislation to establish statewide regulations for the installation of small cell networks was reported out of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee Thursday, with only Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) voting “no.”

“Small cells” are small transponders that operate as base stations, receiving and sending signals while requiring minimal power to operate. They can be placed close together, such as only 250 meters apart. Using small cells would allow a carrier to create dense small cell networks by placing thousands of them on light posts and other available locations. Such dense multiple station networks eliminate the need for further cell tower construction. 

Apparently, the key that allowed the bills — SB 0637 and SB 0894 — to move Thursday was that the Michigan Townships Association (MTA) and the Michigan Municipal League (MML), changed their positions on the measures from “opposed” to “neutral.”  A week before, the MTA and MML spelled out the issues and concerns they had about the legislation. 

“A lot of issues have been moved in the right direction,” Judy Allen, government relations director for the Michigan Townships Association (MTA), told the committee. “So, I’m here to say that we are neutral, based on the changes that have been adopted.”

“I’ll echo most of those same statements,” said John LaMacchia, legislative associate for the Michigan Municipal League (MML). 

Those changes appear in the new S-2 version of the SB 0637, which is sponsored by Sen. Joe Hune (R-Fowlerville). The changes include language that the intent of the legislation is that there will be prioritization (not only through the fee structure) for co-locations vs. new poles in the ground. Also, regarding overlapping right of ways, SB 0637 will require that when there are multiple owners or multiple authorities with jurisdiction for right of way. that fact must be communicated to all entities involved. 

In addition, the bill requires that — for safety purposes — the small cells must be labeled to show what entity is responsible for them. The language was also adjusted for the process of zoning to, once again, prioritize co-location by having a $500 fee for just putting a small cell on an existing pole, but a $1,000 fee for putting in a new pole or making a drastic modification to a structure. 

SB 0894, sponsored by committee chair Sen. Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek), the companion bill to SB 0637, makes adjustments to assure that the provisions in SB 0637 don’t run afoul of the Michigan Constitution. 

A third bill, HB 5097, sponsored by Rep. Beth Griffin (R-Paw Paw), which is related to the small cell bills, but not actually part of the package, pertains to bonding and insurance requirements for telecommunication providers working within a county right-of-way. HB 5097 was reported out of committee unanimously. 

Much of the context to the testimony on SB 0637 seemed to suggest the legislation might, to a certain extent, still be a work in progress. MIRS asked Nofs if he expected it be amended after it reaches the Senate floor. 

“We know for sure, as you often do with any bill, that there are some technical amendments we’ll need to do,” Nofs said. “And, there are some issues some people would still like to talk to more about, but obviously I’m not going to postpone this whole process for those kinds of things. Having said that, I’m the kind of person who will sit down and listen to what someone has to say and if I think it is something that will make the bill stronger, I’ll do it no matter what part of the process we’re in.”

MIRS pointed out that when MML and MTA testified that they were now neutral on the legislation instead of opposing it, both organizations indicated they were reassured by the direction discussions were taking, which suggested the process is still ongoing. 

“Everybody has the ‘must-have’ things, their ‘I’d love to have’ things and their ‘would like to have’ things,” Nofs said. “They got their ‘must-have’ things,’ and I think that’s what got them to neutral, but there are some other things they’d still like to have, so they’ll still be talking to their senators and still trying to get those things in.” 

Apparently, the only governmental groups that now oppose the small cell legislation are road commissions and road commission associations. Nofs said he wasn’t aware of their opposition until just prior to Thursday’s hearing, and he is willing to work with them to try to address their concerns. 

The majority of the testimony on the small cell legislation Thursday was dominated by individuals who oppose the legislation based on health concerns about wireless electric rays. 

Pamela Wallace, of Rochester, was the second person to testify that she had been diagnosed with electric hyper-sensitivity

“There are many things to bring to the table that have not been considered in this bill and probably not in this overall conversation,” Wallace said. “I’ve had to make great modifications in my life.”

Wallace said her health problem was the result of having been exposed to microwave radiation. She echoed what others who testified along the same lines claimed, which is that technology, such as small cells, are a higher frequency “more like X-rays” and can cause maladies such as hers and potentially even cause cancer. She, along with others, argued that studies that aren’t sponsored by the telecommunications industry should be seriously considered before moving ahead with legislation such as SB 0637.

Share On: