By Patrick Fox
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Telecom companies will have a tougher time building and maintaining cell towers in Milton after the city council voted in more restrictive laws governing construction Monday.
The revised ordinance calls for a more detailed application process and more restrictive policies regarding location and height of cell towers, primarily for aesthetic purposes. It also institutes a licensing fee, which the city says will help pay for annual inspections.
The city established a moratorium on cell tower applications in April until it could revise its ordinance. Twice in the past month, the city council has delayed a vote on the ordinance, citing the need for extra time to consider all objections raised by the industry.
No residents spoke on the issue Monday, but representatives from Verizon, AT&T and the Georgia Wireless Association raised questions about the licensing fee. They said the industry is capable of providing inspections and signed affidavits to the city each year.
Sheryl Sellaway, spokeswoman for Verizon, said the company is concerned that such fees could snowball into a major expense.
"It's not just about Milton," she said. "If this comes to be, then there will be other counties that could potentially take on this move to a licensing fee."
The expenses would eventually be passed on to the consumers, she said.
City Attorney Ken Jarrard said the city has an obligation to inspect the facilities for safety and compliance. The industry should bear that cost, he said.
Council member Julie Zahner Bailey said the fee would not be arbitrary but would reflect to only the cost to regulate the industry.
The revised telecommunications ordinance requires applicants to compile a study detailing coverage areas for all existing towers and demonstrate the need for a new tower. This includes whether the tower's proposed height is the minimum necessary to achieve the required coverage.
The industry did win one concession when the city backed out of its requirement that the applicants' coverage studies be certified by a licensed professional engineer. The city agreed to allow radio frequency engineers and professionals to certify such reports, but it insisted professional engineers certify studies relating to the structural integrity of towers.
The ordinance also addressed another industry concern raised last month when an attorney told the council that language in the proposed ordinance may violate the Advanced Broadband Co-location Act signed into law May 24.
In particular, the act requires governments to expedite applications where telecom companies plan to add to or replace equipment at an existing tower. Jarrard said the new ordinance now clearly differentiates between existing and new construction.