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The bill for super-fast 5G service runs out of time in Harrisburg

Pennsylvania's 5G legislation flickered out this legislative session in Harrisburg despite a flurry of last-minute lobbying. The bill's main sponsor promised to take it up again in early 2019.

A telecommunication tower with panel antennas and radio antennas and satellite dishes for mobile communications. Telecom companies are seeking ways to rapidly deploy 5G technology but there are many critics.
A telecommunication tower with panel antennas and radio antennas and satellite dishes for mobile communications. Telecom companies are seeking ways to rapidly deploy 5G technology but there are many critics.Read more(Dreamstime/TNS)

Pennsylvania's legislation to put up thousands of devices for super-fast 5G wireless service flickered out in Harrisburg despite a flurry of lobbying. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Frank Farry (R., Langhorne) promised to take it up again in early 2019.

Supporters, including Farry, said the legislation ran out of time and no companion bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate. The House Consumer Affairs Committee in August held a public hearing on the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act,  but it wasn't voted out of the committee. Barring a last-minute change, the legislature's final voting day in its two-year session is Wednesday.

"We continue to talk with the stakeholders to come up with a solution," Farry said Monday.

The proposed legislation would make it easy to put thousands of small cell antennas on utility poles, buildings, traffic lights, or other public property for 5G services, which will lead to faster internet services and streaming video. Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T have said they would offer 5G.

The boxy 5G equipment sprouts five-foot antennas and will proliferate like weeds throughout the nation over the next decade. Telecom companies may deploy 800,000 of them across the United States.

But local political opposition in Pennsylvania boroughs has hardened in recent weeks.

The mayors of Hatboro, Collegeville, Conshohocken, West Conshohocken, Bridgeport, Ambler and others have come out  against the proposed legislation, calling it a give-away to wireless and infrastructure companies. The companies want to quickly expand advanced wireless services through small cell antennas on publicly owned rights of way, with minimal red tape and fees.

The legislation also would strip towns of local control over zoning for the placement of these small cells, they say.

"The telecom companies want to expand 5G as fast as they can and as cheaply as they can," Lansdale Borough Mayor Garry Herbert said Monday.

Herbert held a news event last Thursday in Lansdale, publicizing his opposition — and the opposition of other borough mayors — to Farry's H.B. 2564.

The borough mayors also said the proposed legislation would take away municipal zoning powers in their rights-of-way.

Because homeowners and other property owners pay taxes on rights of way, they would be subsidizing telecom companies, said Ed Troxell, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.

Farry has expressed frustration at the borough officials and said the legislation has broad support.

In public hearings, some consumers also have voiced concerns over the possible health effects of the powerful 5G wireless services.

The Pennsylvania activity is part of a state and national lobbying blitz by telecommunications companies. Last month, the Federal Communications Commission voted to make it easier and cheaper to place an estimated 800,000 small antennas for 5G services on utility poles, traffic lights, sidewalks, and other public areas — rules very similar to the ones considered in the Pennsylvania legislation.

The FCC said the new rules could save telecom companies $2 billion in costs associated with 5G deployment. Philadelphia, Seattle, and other cities have opposed the FCC's new rules.

Borough officials said Farry's legislation would set fees for small cell antennas lower than the new FCC rules.

On Monday, the lobbying group Pennsylvania Partnership for 5G met in Harrisburg with state lawmakers. The group had five meetings scheduled on Monday and seven on Tuesday, said the group's spokeswoman, Ashley Henry Shooks. Crown Castle, a wireless infrastructure company with about 1,000 employees in Western Pennsylvania, financially supports the lobbying group.

The group supports "statewide legislation that sets uniform standards for fees and provides a streamlined and transparent permitting process across all municipal jurisdictions," the partnership said in a statement.

"Municipalities that oppose HB 2564 or that may seek a carve-out are jeopardizing their community's timely access to 5G," the group added.