- Report Published -
|A Study on the Feasibility and Desirability of Leasing State-Owned Properties to Wireless Telecommunications Providers|
|Secretary of Administration|
|HJR 224 (Regular Session, 1996)|
House Joint Resolution 224 (Exhibit A) requests the Secretary of Administration to study the feasibility and desirability of leasing state-owned properties to wireless telecommunications providers. Specifically, the Secretary was asked to examine: (i) whether to authorize the leasing of such properties for the siting of mobile service antennas and, if so, how to ensure equal access to all service providers; (ii) how to coordinate zoning and other land use control ordinances with local governments; (iii) the role of utility companies in locating antennas atop utility poles; and (iv) the feasibility of siting alternatives to mitigate the negative visual impact of these structures.
Demand for antenna space to accommodate wireless telecommunication is increasing due largely to the emergence of new technology known as Broadband Personal Communications Services (PCS). Broadband PCS competes with the cellular industry in providing mobile telecommunications, and it also provides digital service that will open the door to development of new communication devices. Both technologies use low powered transmitters which, as more subscribers are added, require more transmitting facilities. In addition, PCS operates at a higher frequency than cellular often requiring more antennas than cellular services to provide equivalent coverage. The Federal Communications Commission began auctioning Broadband PCS licenses in 1994, and licenses were granted beginning in June of 1996.
The licensed PCS providers are anxious to fill-out their service areas with adequate numbers of antenna sites to begin operations as soon as possible. In response, the cellular industry is working to expand and improve its services. Both industries are interested in siting facilities on state-owned land due in-no small part to the absence of zoning which the companies perceive as offering a quicker path to developing new facilities.
The construction of antennas for both PCS and cellular technologies is very site specific. State-owned land can only be utilized when it is within the parameters of the technical specifications being applied. Use of state-owned land, therefore, cannot be viewed as an alternative to placing antennas in residential communities as suggested in House Joint Resolution 224, though that might incidentally be the case in some areas.
The obvious advantage to the Commonwealth in leasing land and antenna space to mobile communication companies is the income that can be derived. For instance, state agencies own some 40 existing communication towers, and a space on such towers leases for $1,000 to $1,200 per month, depending on the location of the tower. Typically, towers can accommodate multiple antennas. Because of the site-specific needs, not all of the state-owned towers will be in locations that are needed by these industries. Assuming 25% of the existing state-owned towers are in desirable locations, leasing space on them can generate a minimum of $120,000 annually. That assumes only one site on each tower will be leased when in fact multiple sites on each tower can be leased.
There are also other important considerations. An expected outcome of the licensing of PCS providers is competition with the cellular industry and thus a reduction in the cost of mobile communication. In addition, PCS offers digital communication that will encourage development of more sophisticated communication devices. The Federal Communication Commission's Broadband PCS Fact Sheet (Exhibit B) states, in part:
"Broadband Personal Communications Services (Broadband PCS) is broadly defined by the Federal Communications Commission as "radio communications that encompass mobile and ancillary fixed communication services that provide services to individuals and businesses and can be integrated with a variety of competing networks." Broadband PCS could also be used in the development of more advanced wireless phone services that can pinpoint the subscriber in any given locale. Broadband PCS will most likely be used to provide a variety of mobile services including an entire family of new communications devices utilizing very small, lightweight, multifunction portable phones, portable facsimile and other imaging devices, new types of multifunction cordless phones, and advanced devices with two-way data capabilities. Broadband PCS systems will be able to communicate with other telephone networks as well as with personal digital assistants, allowing subscribers to send and receive data and/or video messages without connection to a wire."
"Competition in the PCS industry will benefit consumers and businesses. The FCC's licensing plan for this spectrum provides for several new full service providers of wireless services in each market. Consumers will be able to choose from multiple providers and will receive lower prices and better service as a result. Businesses will increases their productivity and enhance efficient delivery of products because they will have greater choice among service providers and more advanced telecommunication services. Businesses also will benefit by providing a supporting role to this new industry, in construction of infrastructure, software development, etc."
Thus, the broader implications of encouraging competition among the services and enhancing economic development opportunities must be considered in determining the best interest of the Commonwealth with respect to allowing antennas to be constructed on state-owned property.
By 1995, the Allen Administration had recognized the potential for income that leasing antenna space could generate. The Department of General Services was also becoming involved in actions with the Department of State Police whereby the FCC auctioned frequencies used by DSP, and it was the purchaser's responsibility to relocate DSP to their new frequencies. This offered potential benefits to DSP if they had the latitude to offer space on state-owned towers to the purchasers. That, for instance, allows DSP to swap space on towers to obtain locations that provide radio coverage to areas in the Commonwealth heretofore not covered.
Consequently, DGS recommended language that would allow state agencies to lease or sell real property for the placement of communications antennas on state-owned property. We offered that for consideration by the 1996 session, and it was approved by the General Assembly as an amendment to § 2.1-504.4 of the Code.
At the same time, House Joint Resolution 224 was considered and approved by the General Assembly. Undertaking this study has provided us the opportunity to focus on the issues, and as a result we plan to establish a more aggressive program to work expeditiously with the cellular and PCS providers.