Commentary: County Board Voted to Impede Rural Internet Service
By David Studebaker
Chair, Technical Committee, Town of Liberty Grove
Member, Economic Development Committee, Town of Liberty Grove
I attended my first Door County Board meeting [on Sept. 29]. My reason for attending was the proposed new ordinance regulating all types of communications towers in unincorporated Door County. I have been actively involved for several years in working to improve the level of internet service in Liberty Grove and, to the extent possible, in all of rural Door County. The ordinance that was adopted Sept. 29, contrary to what the board was told, will have a significant negative impact on this effort.
I was very positively impressed with the obvious desire of the board members to make an informed decision. I was very disappointed in the quality of the information that was provided by the head of the Planning Department and the Corporation Counsel. The presentations by those two individuals were full of misleading information.
Some specific examples of misleading information:
- It was represented that there would be no additional costs to apply for a tower construction permit. Yet there are several application requirements that will require incurring new administrative, engineering, legal and other service costs.
For example: A final written determination of “no hazard” is required from the FAA. The website describing the process of obtaining such a determination is oeaaa.faa.gov/oeaaa/external/searchAction.jsp?action=generalFAQs.
It is not possible to review the multiple pages of fine print there and say there is no cost to obtaining this determination. There is no fee, but there is considerable administrative effort required to fill out, file and follow-up on the required paperwork (effort equals cost).
Also required is proof of compliance with the FCC rules for environmental review. The website describing “in brief” the many areas of compliance required is fcc.gov/encyclopedia/tower-and-antenna-siting.
Form 620 for new towers consists of nine pages of instructions and a 10-page form. Obviously a significant effort is required to complete this form (effort equals cost). It is likely that the use of an expensive consultant will be required, much like most people now have their taxes done by an expensive expert.
- It was represented that no “engineering study” would be required. But there is a requirement for “a report prepared by an engineer licensed by the State of Wisconsin.” I do not think a report is materially different from a study, especially if you have to pay an engineer to prepare it.
- It was stated that one of the groups objecting to the ordinance in its present form consisted of a small group who just wanted there to be no regulation. That small group consisted of the Town of Liberty Grove, the Door County Economic Development Corporation and Door County Broadband, the only wireless broadband provider building towers in northern Door County. The request was not for no regulation, but for regulation that recognizes the difference between small, relatively inexpensive wireless internet towers and the massive, expensive cellular towers that were the original target of the state statute on mobile tower siting.
As I review the recording of the meeting, I expect to identify more areas in which incorrect information and misleading statements led the county board to adopt a bad ordinance this morning.
The goal is not to have tower construction be unregulated, but to intelligently regulate the construction of wireless internet towers which represent the best hope that rural Door County has to obtain improved internet service. The unfortunate outcome of today’s county board action will likely be adoption by one or more towns of their own tower ordinance, resulting in a patchwork quilt of regulation in the county. Rural Door County as a whole will suffer. No internet service provider who is not already here will consider jumping into the regulatory pit just created. The one(s) who are here will focus on expanding service from their existing towers, not adding new towers to serve currently underserved or unserved areas.
It has been well documented that quality high-speed internet service is critical to the economic health and quality of life of a community. Rural Door County is a classic example of underserved and unserved community relative to internet (we are identified that way on state maps showing areas without adequate internet service).
Construction of new wireless internet towers represents the best hope rural Door County has for improving that service. But Sept. 29’s ordinance adoption just put a giant speed bump in the way of our internet progress. The problem can be fixed, but before that happens, we will have all paid a significant price in terms of continued internet service limitations resulting in reduced property values and slow or no economic development in rural Door County.