Transportation and Telecommunications

Broadband infrastructure permitting rules discussed

The Transportation and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony Feb. 12 on a proposal that would cap fees and set deadlines for permitting the installation of broadband internet infrastructure on certain utility poles and towers.

Sen. Robert Clements
Sen. Robert Clements

Under LB1112, introduced by Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements, counties, cities and other local governing entities that require a permit for the placement of communications infrastructure on public or private utility poles and towers located in their jurisdiction could charge an application fee of no more than $100 and a permit fee of no more than $250.

Clements said some counties have partnered with consultants that charge as much as $16,000 and take as long as nine months to review applications to install broadband equipment, limiting the number of providers that might otherwise serve those locations.

Under LB1112, local governments could not allow a third-party reviewer to assess any charges to an applicant. Cities and counties that contract with a third-party reviewer would be required to pay for those services.

The bill also would require a local governing entity to publish certain information on its website. In addition to the application form, it would have to publish the application and permit fees, the schedule for processing and reviewing applications and issuing permits, the criteria and standards used in determining the approval or denial of an application and other information.

Local governing entities also would be required to confirm receipt of an application within five business days and approve or deny it within 30 days — 40 days if the review period is extended due to an incomplete application. If the county or city does not approve or deny the application by the deadline, it would be deemed approved.

Aaron Clark testified in support of LB1112 on behalf of Nextlink Internet. He said the bill would set clear expectations for telecommunications companies, provide them with a useful timeline and ensure that fees are “fair and reasonable.”

“LB1112 serves to set some reasonable guardrails and expectations while maintaining local control of the process,” Clark said.

Testifying in opposition to the bill was Valerie Grimes, director of planning and development for the city of Norfolk. She said city staff lack the engineering and legal background required to review permit applications and rely on a consultant to ensure that broadband infrastructure is safely installed.

“Our city taxpayers should not front the cost of compliance,” Grimes said. “That should be on the telecommunication companies who, in our experience, are often eager to push projects quickly and without … regard for local health and safety regulations.”

Also testifying in opposition was Lash Chaffin of the League of Nebraska Municipalities. He said the “vast majority” of permits are processed within days. When the process has been delayed, Chaffin said, it is because a telecommunications company did not provide information in a timely manner or the permit involved a tower that holds public safety equipment.

“There are a few isolated examples that are being blown out of proportion,” he said.

Blair MacDonald testified in opposition to LB1112 on behalf of Greater Nebraska Cities. She said the proposed 30-day timeline is “very restrictive” and that 60 days would be more reasonable for member cities, whose planning departments review permit applications without the help of consultants.

The proposed fee caps are much lower than what some cities currently charge, MacDonald added, with Grand Island charging $1,000 to review an application.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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