1996 Telecommunications Act Conference Report


[To accompany S. 652]


  • Pages 207-209

Senate bill

No provision.

House amendment

Section 108 of the House amendment required the Commission to issue regulations within 180 days of enactment for siting of CMS. A negotiated rulemaking committee comprised of State and local governments, public safety agencies and the affected industries were to have attempted to develop a uniform policy to propose to the Commission for the siting of wireless tower sites.

The House amendment also required the Commission to complete its pending Radio Frequency (RF) emission exposure standards within 180 days of enactment. The siting of facilities could not be denied on the basis of RF emission levels for facilities that were in compliance with the Commission standard.

The House amendment also required that to the greatest extent possible the Federal government make available to use of Federal property, rights-of-way, easements and any other physical instruments in the siting of wireless telecommunications facilities.

Conference agreement

The conference agreement creates a new section 704 which prevents Commission preemption of local and State land use decisions and preserves the authority of State and local governments over zoning and land use matters except in the limited circumstances set forth in the conference agreement. The conference agreement also provides a mechanism for judicial relief from zoning decisions that fail to comply with the provisions of this section. It is the intent of the conferees that other than under section 332(c)(7)(B)(iv)of the Communications Act of 1934 as amended by this Act and section 704 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 the courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction over all other disputes arising under this section. Any pending Commission rulemaking concerning the preemption of local zoning authority over the placement, construction or modification of CMS facilities should be terminated.

When utilizing the term ‘‘functionally equivalent services’’ the conferees are referring only to personal wireless services as defined in this section that directly compete against one another . The intent of the conferees is to ensure that a State or local government does not in making a decision regarding the placement, construction and modification of facilities of personal wireless services described in this section unreasonably favor one competitor over another. The conferees also intend that the phrase ‘‘unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services’’ will provide localities with the flexibility to treat facilities that create different visual, aesthetic, or safety concerns differently to the extent permitted under generally applicable zoning requirements even if those facilities provide functionally equivalent services. For example, the conferees do not intend that if a State or local government grants a permit in a commercial district, it must also grant a permit for a competitor’s 50-foot tower in a residential district.

Actions taken by State or local governments shall not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the placement, construction or modification of personal wireless services. It is the intent of this section that bans or policies that have the effect of banning personal wireless services or facilities not be allowed and that decisions be made on a case-by-case basis.

Under subsection (c)(7)(B)(ii), decisions are to be rendered in a reasonable period of time, taking into account the nature and scope of each request. If a request for placement of a personal wireless service facility involves a zoning variance or a public hearing or comment process, the time period for rendering a decision will be the usual period under such circumstances It is not the intent of this provision to give preferential treatment to the personal wireless service industry in the processing of requests, or to subject their requests to any but the generally applicable time frames for zoning decision.

The phrase ‘‘substantial evidence contained in a written record’’ is the traditional standard used for judicial review of agency actions.

The conferees intend section 332(c)(7)(B)(iv) to prevent a State or local government or its instrumentalities from basing the regulation of the placement, construction or modification of CMS facilities directly or indirectly on the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions if those facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations adopted pursuant to section 704(b) concerning such emissions.

The limitations on the role and powers of the Commission under this subparagraph relate to local land use regulations and are not intended to limit or affect the Commission’s general authority over radio telecommunications, including the authority to regulate the construction, modification and operation of radio facilities.

The conferees intend that the court to which a party appeals a decision under section 332(c)(7)(B)(v) may be the Federal district court in which the facilities are located or a State court of competent jurisdiction, at the option of the party making the appeal, and that the courts act expeditiously in deciding such cases. The term ‘‘final action’’ of that new subparagraph means final administrative action at the State or local government level so that a party can commence action under the subparagraph rather than waiting for the exhaustion of any independent State court remedy otherwise required.

With respect to the availability of Federal property for the use of wireless telecommunications infrastructure sites under section 704(c), the conferees generally adopt the House provisions, but substitute the President or his designee for the Commission.

It should be noted that the provisions relating to telecommunications facilities are not limited to commercial mobile radio licensees, but also will include other Commission licensed wireless common carriers such as point to point microwave in the extremely high frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum which rely on line of sight for transmitting communication services.