Phillips & Angley

Putting up a new telecommunications tower isn't only your call

Since the explosion of cell phone usage in the United States, providers have struggled to keep up with the demands for more coverage and better service. Having a reputation for dropped calls could essentially ruin a telecommunications company, so ensuring that enough towers are in place to prevent that eventuality is crucial.

Erecting new towers is about much more than buying some real estate, however. First, you must jump through some hurdles set up to protect the environment and the public and satisfy the aesthetic desires of property developers and owners.

What the Federal Communications Commission says about your tower

According to the Federal Communications Commission, you must go through the following steps before you can put up a new tower:

  • Complete an environmental review that complies with environmental and historical concerns outlined in federal acts such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.
  • Receive approval from the local and state agencies governing the location where you want to place the tower.
  • Determine whether the construction specifications of your tower require notification to the Federal Aviation Administration and Antenna Structure Registration.

If the environmental review shows that the tower will comply with all applicable federal laws and acts, you passed one of the major hurdles. The other could involve receiving approval from local and state agencies. State and local governments retain some autonomy regarding land use and zoning issues, but their authority is not complete.

Limitations on state and local authority

When you apply for approval from state and local governments, they are prohibited from the following:

  • Governments cannot play favorites when it comes to carriers and telecommunications companies.
  • Your application must receive timely review.
  • No prohibition on personal wireless services can take place.
  • Denials must be in writing and provide sufficient evidence for the denial.
  • You should receive the right to make changes to an existing tower as long as it does not change the original specifications of the tower such as height and base dimensions.
  • A denial cannot have a basis in radio frequency emissions concerns if your tower complies with the applicable rules.

If a state or local government agency violates these rules, you may have legal recourse. In the alternative, you may consider involving a Massachusetts real estate attorney familiar with telecommunication needs to assist you with receiving the approvals you need to put up your new tower. A familiarity with not only the law, rules and regulations, but also the inner workings of the agencies with which you must deal could prove invaluable to the approval process.

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