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A high-speed assault on the public's right to say no to unsightly cell network equipment

A high-speed assault on the public's right to say no to unsightly cell network equipment
Department of Water and Power employees do maintenance work on power lines and poles near downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 8. (Paul Buck / European Pressphoto Agency)

Among the bills that Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to sign or veto by the Oct. 15 deadline is SB 649, a bill that would strip cities, counties and other local governments of their right to say how their power poles, street lights and other publicly owned infrastructure are used to aid the rollout of "5G" wireless networks.

Officials in hundreds of California cities and counties are vehemently opposed to the bill. This includes Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. The Los Angeles Times opposed the bill as well in a strongly worded editorial in July.

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Wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T are pushing the law because it would give them the authority to use public infrastructure — utility and power poles and street and traffic lights — to hang their "small cell" hardware wherever they like for a set fee — and without the ability of the community to say no. That's wrong, especially when we are talking about fairly bulky equipment (the law allows for things as large as refrigerators) that need to be relatively low to the ground and liberally placed around a community to work correctly.

This isn't just a California issue. The wireless industry has convinced lawmakers in about a dozen other states to pass similar legislation. Those laws have spawned legal battles, including a lawsuit filed last month by about two dozen cities in Texas challenging the pole-rental fees in the law.

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It's too bad legislators of any state would be willing to sell out the rights of their constituents for the benefit of private companies. But Gov. Brown should stop the power grab from coming to California.

Follow me @marielgarzaLAT

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