Q&A about 5G bill

This briefing paper aims to answer questions regarding SB 5711, the 5G bill.

Background: Senate Bill 5711 will speed the deployment of next-generation 5G networks in Washington, and make this state attractive for private investment in wireless and broadband technology. It will:

  • Standardize permitting rules for installation of new telecommunications equipment.
  • Limit rates charged by public utilities for pole attachments and access to other infrastructure. Public utilities would be able to charge the same rates as private utilities.
  • Eliminate barriers to investment that could make other states more attractive as these private networks are developed.

Utility issues

Q: Will SB 5711 bring additional private broadband and wireless investment to rural areas?

A: By reducing capital costs for private telecom providers, we make it possible for them to reach additional customers. They can pay a “pole tax” or use that money to build their networks. Disputes over high access fees already are prompting providers to avoid investments in some areas, such as Pacific County. Providers are willing to discuss their rural investment plans should SB 5711 pass.

Q: Are permitting requirements, pole attachment fees and other charges really a deterrent to investment?

A: Public utilities are ignoring current law and using calculations that drive excessive rates. They also charge a leasehold excise tax of 12.84 percent that generally is not mentioned in figures presented to the Legislature. Some municipal utilities and public utility districts are slow to respond to permit requests. Some PUDs have refused to perform any work unless telecom providers agree to unlawful rates. Providers say that if rate issues and permitting timeline problems are resolved, they will deploy capital throughout the areas they serve.

Local government issues

Q: Will SB 5711 prevent cities from regulating the appearance of telecommunications equipment in “themed” or historic districts?

A: The bill allows cities to impose aesthetic standards in unique areas such as themed or historic districts. A small-cell right-of-way agreement also allows objective aesthetic standards to be utilized in specific areas.

Q: Will SB 5711 cause cities to lose control of the permitting process and give them little say in how and where networks are deployed?

A: The bill would make installation of small-cell equipment a permitted use (e.g., remove it from the zoning process that rightly applies to large towers) but cities will still maintain control over small cell rights-of-way agreements. These agreements will still go through a public process, similar to any ordinance, providing cities with necessary authority over design, aesthetics and pole heights.

Q: Will SB 5711 prevent cities from charging what the market will bear in desirable locations?

A: The standard should be cost reimbursement, rather than maximizing profit for cities – otherwise attachment fees function as a pole tax. Installation of small cell equipment and other telecommunications infrastructure should not be seen as an opportunity to gouge. Artificially imposed charges that have no basis in cost do not serve the public’s interest in the rapid deployment of these networks.

Q: Will SB 5711 prevent cities and public utilities from recovering costs associated with permitting and deployment – amounting to a public subsidy for private companies?

A: The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission spent several years defining the methodology that investor-owned utilities (like Puget Sound Energy and Avista) use to determine costs. This formula ensures utilities recover their costs and assures them a return. It makes no sense that this methodology would not allow cities and public utilities to recover their costs.