Ericksen: Shortsighted lobbying threatens 5G bill — cities, public utilities dig in heels

  • Ericksen bill standardizes rules, rates for telecom pole attachments.
  • Makes Washington attractive for private investment in faster networks.
  • Cities, public utilities want to maintain control, high rates, choking 5G deployment.

OLYMPIA – A full-tilt lobbying effort at the state Capitol by cities and public utilities threatens a bill that would speed the deployment of next-generation 5G wireless technology, says Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Ericksen, chair of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, says cities, municipal utilities and public utility districts are blocking Senate Bill 5711. Time may be tight because of a Wednesday deadline for passage of bills from the Senate, though Ericksen says he hopes the bill will be exempted from the cutoff. He says the public needs to understand what is at stake.

“By standing in the way of this revolution, cities and public utilities will steer private investment to other states, and Washington will be left in the dust,” Ericksen said. “What they are doing will cripple Washington’s competitiveness and delay the deployment of lightning-fast networks in Washington state. People need to know this is the real battle being fought right now at the statehouse – our state’s future is at risk.”

The new 5G wireless technology just around the corner promises speeds 50 times faster – or more – than current 4G networks. The new networks promise virtually instantaneous business communication, economic development for rural areas, and high-speed consumer services – like HD movies that can be downloaded in seconds.

Ericksen’s bill would standardize permitting rules and allow public utilities to charge for pole access at the same rate as private utilities. At a Feb. 8 hearing before Ericksen’s committee, members were told some public utilities charge three times as much. Telecom industry representatives said current rules will likely limit investment in Washington while private networks are built at full speed in other states. Ericksen says municipal governments and public utilities are being shortsighted.

“The same people who brought you freeway gridlock in Puget Sound are now working to do the same thing to 5G and broadband deployment in Washington,” Ericksen said. “We have a decision to make in this state. Do we want our wireless and broadband networks to look like a two-lane bottleneck on I-5, or do we want to become a world leader on this new 5G superhighway?

“5G deployment will be the biggest infrastructure buildout since the Interstate Highway system. Billions of dollars will be spent. This investment can come to Washington, or it can go to states that offer more certainty and a better return. Tens of thousands of new jobs are at stake.

“Senate Bill 5711 will put this state on the leading edge of this information technology revolution. But local governments are more concerned about turf battles, and they are working hard to block SB 5711. We have listened to their concerns and have ensured that aesthetics and community character will be protected.

“Washington’s municipal utilities and public utility districts also are fighting the bill. They don’t want to be forced to charge fair rates for access to their poles and other infrastructure, even though they have monopoly control. The PUDs have failed to bring broadband to rural areas and now they are fighting to prevent private companies from providing these services.

“These are the biggest barriers to 5G and broadband deployment in this state. We need to break them down, give the people what they want, and make Washington the leader it ought to be.”