CTIA suffers major blow as small-cell bill vetoed in California

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have streamlined policies for small-cell deployments, handing CTIA and major wireless carriers a significant defeat in the nation’s most populous state.

The bill—SB 649—essentially would have given wireless companies the same rights as public utilities. It would have enabled carriers and infrastructure vendors to place transmitters in public rights-of-way, the Santa Maria Times reported earlier this year, and capped fees cities could charge to install their devices.

The bill had become a top priority for CTIA, which claimed it would boost California’s economy and pave the way for faster network speeds, better coverage and increased capacity. But it was opposed by some 300 California cities, dozens of counties more than 100 local organizations.

“There is something of real value in having a process that results in extending this innovative technology rapidly and efficiently,” Brown said in a brief statement. “Nevertheless, I believe that the interest which localities have in managing rights of way requires a more balanced solution than the one achieved in this bill.”

CTIA representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from FierceWireless.

All four major wireless carriers in the U.S. are looking to small cells to improve coverage and increase capacity in advance of 5G buildouts. The antennas, which can be as small as a lunchbox, can be placed on “street furniture” such as lampposts or traffic lights as well as on the sides of buildings or other objects. And they sometimes require the installation of new poles that can be 120 feet or taller.

Zoning and permitting headaches have slowed the small cell market. Some municipalities are fighting small cell deployments based on concerns over aesthetics, noise, rights-of-way issues and other worries.

And municipalities around the nation continue to scramble to establish their own rules for small-cell deployments.

Meanwhile, federal intervention looms on the horizon as the number of skirmishes between local municipalities and states increases. The FCC voted in May to move forward with plans to make it easier for wireless carriers and their partners to deploy small cells in municipalities across the country. The agency approved “an examination of the regulatory impediments” (PDF) at the state and local levels that can slow the rollout of small cells and other transmitters in an effort to streamline siting and deployment processes.

Even President Donald Trump entered the fray a few months ago following a highly publicized meeting with top-level wireless executives. “We can do a recommendation to the cities all over the country to get it going,” Trump said in support of wireless network operators.