In the biggest telecom power grab so far to remove local authority in zoning and funding for broadband expansion, California legislators have authored a stack of telecom bills, many of which are poised to benefit industry while overlooking health, safety and local democracy. Big Telecom isn’t messing around anymore. Unlimited funds and powerful lobbyists, along with the help of the American Legislative Exchange (ALEC) that endorses deregulation, are on a fast train to derail what little power local governments have to regulate the placement or funding of broadband with a laundry list of telecom California bills slated to clean up in 2021. This this too fast and furious approach is to improve internet speeds and access, without considering long term consequences, alternatives to wireless infrastructure, or the future economic viability of local governments.  “It turns the development process in California upside down to accelerate wireless infrastructure deployment” without the normal orderly deliberative process. (Masri 2015) 

The California League of Cities opposes the most egregious of these bills.

Monopoly: It Isn’t just a Game Anymore

Instead of recognizing that Big Telecom needs to be broken up and regulated, or that municipally controlled broadband with fiberoptic to premises is cheaper, more equitable, uses less energy, and economically supports local governments, these bills will further consolidate power in the hands of a few massive communications corporations that are rapidly vertically and horizontally integrating. The public is paying for all of this infrastructure but being ignored when major pitfalls are spotlighted, such as energy consumption, fire safety issues, road safety issues, health issues, environmental issues, cybersecurity issues, and equity issues. These bills are stated under existing law to be for “economic growth and job creation” and for improved broadband access. While these are laudable goals, who will be the true winners in this game and at what cost?  Is computer or distanced learning effective? With so many unanswered critical questions, should we slow the Telecom Train or continue to stoke its profitable engine while we are headed for the cliff? 

Distance Learning is a Failure

The report card for distance learning is in… and it isn’t good. Parents, educators and researchers alike have given it an F for not only academic loss but also for social emotional well-being.  Remote online learning at home has caused a widening of the education gap. that school districts will be struggling with when in person classes resume next year. In person education with teachers, not technology is the key to success. A large survey was published in MMWR March 2021 revealed the consequences of virtual learning. The authors warn, “Children not receiving in-person instruction and their parents might experience increased risk for negative mental, emotional, or physical health outcomes and might need additional support to mitigate pandemic effects. Community-wide actions to reduce COVID-19 incidence and support mitigation strategies in schools are critically important to support students’ return to in-person learning.” 

The Big Five Telecom Bills 

Five bills stand out that will have the most impact on local governments to responsibly carry out their duty to protect their cities, their citizens and their economies are:

SB-556  (Dodd) »“A cell tower on every utility pole” bill

SB-378 (Gonzalez) »“Superficial Microtrenching our streets” bill 

AB-537 (Quirk) »“Deemed Approved- Fast tracking collocation of cell antennas” bill 

AB-995 (Quirk) »“Deemed Approved- Fast tracking highway cell antennas” bill

AB-1360 (Daly) »“Distance learning for all” bill

SB-556 Street light poles, traffic signal poles: small wireless facilities attachments.(2021-2022) – California Connectivity Act.

“This bill would prohibit a local government or local publicly owned electric utility from unreasonably denying the leasing or licensing of its street light poles or traffic signal poles to communications service providers for the purpose of placing small wireless facilities on those poles.”  SB 556 Opposed by the California League of Cities, City of Los Altos, City of Palo Alto, 

Reasons to Oppose SB 556:

  • This measure would directly conflict with Federal Communications Commission’s adopted regulations on wireless services deployment. 
  • It would require local governments to make space available on street light poles, traffic signal poles, utility poles, and other public infrastructure to telecommunications providers. 
  • It would create ambiguity in the fees local governments can charge for access to their infrastructure.
  • SB 556 is an attempt by the telecommunications industry to undermine local authority while making no meaningful progress towards closing the digital divide in California’s unserved and underserved communities.
  • Would increase fire risk in California
  • Would implement FCC rules around broadband permitting into state law 
  • Federal law allows locals to “manage” the public right-of-way and the mandate of the draft bill does not allow us to manage the public right-of-way. 
  • This is a takeover of the public right of way. 
MORE INFO HERE  New Study: The influence of electromagnetic radiation of cell phones on the behavior of animals

SB 378 Local government: broadband infrastructure development project permit processing: microtrenching permit processing ordinance (2020-2021) Broadband Deployment Acceleration Best Practices Act of 2021.

“This bill would require a local agency to allow, except as provided, microtrenching for the installation of underground fiber if the installation in the microtrench is limited to fiber. he bill would also require, to the extent necessary, a local agency with jurisdiction to approve excavations to adopt or amend existing ordinances, codes, or construction rules to allow for microtrenching.” 

Microtrenching provides considerable cost savings up front for fiber installation as it is placed in shallow trenches typically 4-16 inches deep along roadways and above deeper underground utilities such as sewer, water and sensitive gas lines.  While it is appropriate in some areas and with a lower risk of interfering with underground utilities, there are potential hazards associated with microtrenching similar to other excavation methods.

Boring for underground utility placement involves digging 3 to 5 feet deep and then using sideways drilling under the sidewalk. It is for long term safe placement of utilities. Problems with microtrenching include issues with repavement of roads, accidental injury to fiberoptics when redigging for utilities that are deeper in the  ground.

 SB 378 is Opposed by the California League of Cities

Reasons to Oppose SB 378:

  • This bill would remove local control over the placement of Microtrenching  for fiberoptic cable in cities.
  • Would give providers of fiber facilities sole authority to determine the method of installation of fiber
  • Forbid local governments from “prohibiting, or unreasonably discriminating in favor of or against the use of, aerial installations, open trenching or boring, or microtrenching.” 
  • Most cities have specific expectations of various utilities. Different utilities are at specified depths. Anything that falls outside these expectations is likely to cause problems in the long run. 
  • Micro-trenching disturbs the structural matrix of roads that have been aged over decades,
  • Applying micro-trenching in granular material can be challenging and may result in aggregate congestion in the trench that impedes the overall cleanliness of the excavation. 
  • resulting in rapid deterioration. 
  • Fiberoptic cable installed via micro-trenching may be subject to decreased performance due to environmental factors, temperature change, water seepage, and bending radius incurred during construction.
  • Localized construction done to replace or bring gas, water or electric utilities and future work could more easily cut microtrenched fiber.
  • Replacement of pavement which is on 30-40 year cycles may present a hazard for fiberoptic as the depth for repaving is typically 18 inches.
  • Cities know their roads and land use and should make the determination where best to microtrench
  • This is an overreach of authority

AB-537   (Quirk) Communications: wireless telecommunications and broadband facilities.  (2020-2021)

“Under existing law, eligible facilities requests, defined to include any request for modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that involves collocation of new transmission equipment, removal of transmission equipment, or replacement of transmission equipment, are exempt from these requirements.”  AB 537 Opposed by the California League of Cities

AB 57 (Quirk ) 2015 was a similar “deemed approved” bill, which removed local authority over placement of cell antennas beyond the Federal law. The FCC deliberately did not allow for a “deemed approved” requirement if cities took more time to deliberate a collocation permit. AB 57 (quirk) exempted “eligible facilities”. In this new 2021 bill AB 537the exemption for “eligible facilities” will be removed.   The California League of Cities opposed AB 57 (which became law)  as this measure “would provide wireless telecommunications facilities a higher priority under state law than other broadband providers using different technologies, tie the hands of municipalities, and set a dangerous precedent of removing localities’ power to make key land use decisions.”

MORE INFO HERE  Get your anti 5G, etc. stickers here!

Reasons to Oppose AB 537:

  • Collocation permits for cell antennas are automatically deemed approved within a shotclock period and above Federal requirements
  • Fast tracks collocation of antennas without needed orderly government deliberation and oversight 
  • Cities and counties could not prohibit, or unreasonably discriminate in favor of or against any particular technology in the broadband permitting process. 
  • Would implement FCC rules around broadband permitting into state law 
  • Removes the power of local municipalities on key land use issues

AB-955 (Quirk) Highways: encroachment permits: broadband facilities.(2021-2022).

“The department [of transportation] shall either approve or deny an application from an applicant for an encroachment permit within 60 days of receiving a completed application, as determined by the department. … The department’s failure to notify the applicant within that 60-day period that the permit is denied shall be deemed to constitute approval of the permit. Thereafter, upon notifying the department, the applicant may act in accordance with its permit application, as if the permit had been approved.”

Reasons to Oppose AB 955:

  • Permits for cell antennas are automatically deemed approved within a 60 day shotclock period
  • Removes CEQA (ie environmental impact) reviews from the hands of local governments, and negatively impacts protection for Native American burial grounds.  
  • Overreach of authority

AB-1560 (Daly) Distance learning: pupil access: computing devices and broadband internet service.(2021-2022).

“Contingent upon an appropriation, the bill would authorize the Superintendent to provide each eligible pupil in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, of a local educational agency with a computing device that meets the minimum performance standard for distance learning, as established by the Superintendent, in order to participate in distance learning. The bill would require the Superintendent to maintain on the Superintendent’s internet website, and distribute to certain entities, a list of broadband service options available for eligible low-income Californians, including service options offered voluntarily by broadband service providers and broadband service options offered by providers participating in the state lifeline program administered by the Public Utilities Commission, as provided.”

Reasons to Oppose AB 1560

  • Distance learning has not been shown to be effective
  • Distance learning has been shown to cause adverse effects on students behavior, learning and mood
  • Teachers not technology are the most important for students learning
  • Distance learning will not close the digital divide
  • Adds a burden to the school districts

Other Bills on Broadband

  • SB-28 (Caballero) – Rural Broadband and Digital Infrastructure Video Competition Reform Act of 2021
  • SB-732 (Bates) – Communications: broadband
  • SB-743 (Bradford) – Housing developments: broadband adoption: grant program
  • AB-14 (Aguiar-Curry) -Communications: broadband services: California Advanced Services Fund
  • AB-34 (Muratsuchi) – Broadband for All Act of 2022
  • AB-41 (Wood) – Broadband infrastructure deployment
  • AB-464 (Mullin) – Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts: allowable facilities and projects
  • AB-1166 (Grayson) – Communications: wireless telecommunications facilities
  • AB-1176 (Eduardo Garcia) – Communications: universal broadband service: California Connect Fund
  • AB-1557 (Santiago) – Communications: utility pole attachments
  • AB-1560 (Daly) – Distance learning: pupil access: computing devices and broadband internet service

Timeline for bill passage in the California Senate and Assembly

CA Senate-

CA Assembly

  • April 30 last day for policy committees to hear and report to fiscal committees in first house
  • May 7 last day for policy committees to hear and report to Floor non fiscal bills in first house
  • May 14 last day for policy committees to meet prior to June 7
  • May 21 Last day for fiscal committees to hear and report to floor bills introduced in first house. 
  • June 4, Last day for bills to be passed out of the house of origin
  • Sept 10, 2021- Bills sent to the Governor
  • October 10, 2021 Last day for Governor to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature on or before Sept. 10 
MORE INFO HERE  Fight of Flight: The Run from 5G’s Harmful Effects on Kids with Rodney Palmer

Call to Action

Concerned citizens are encouraged to call and write letters to their local assembly members and senate members, deliver letters to their local offices or to make appointments with the legislators or their aides and voice their opinions. The bills have moved rapidly through committees. 

California Assembly Members

California Senate members

See Also


Cal Cities highlights top bills impacting cities in Spring Legislative Briefing

What the AT&T Breakup Teaches Us About a Big Tech Breakup. March 1, 2021. Electronic Fontier Foundation.

ALEC Telecommunications Deregulation Policy Statement

A Brave New World for Cell Antennas in California: What You Need to Know About AB 57. March 1, 2016. Western City.

Making Smart Decisions About Smart Cities.ACLU. Nov 13, 2017.

Making Smart Decisions About Surveillance: A Guide for Community Transparency, Accountability & Oversight. March 28, 2016. ACLU.

Top 3 Groups Lobbying The FCC.Law 360.  April 23, 2021.

Association of Children’s Mode of School Instruction with Child and Parent Experiences and Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic — COVID Experiences Survey, United States, October 8–November 13, 2020.Verlenden JV et al. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. MMWR.

All-remote learning is failing many students all across the country: “These children are struggling”.Dec 7, 2020.

California teachers grapple with grading nearly a year after initial school closures. Feb 9, 2021. EdSource.

Remote learning failed my third-grader miserably. I pulled her out of public school.Feb 10, 2021.

 Associations between screen time and sleep duration are primarily driven by portable electronic devices: evidence from a population-based study of U.S. children ages 0-17. Twenge JM. Sleep Med. 2019 Apr;56:211-218.

Early electronic screen exposure and autistic-like symptoms. Donna Hermawati. Intractable Rare Dis Res. 2018 Feb; 7(1): 69–71.

How screen time affects kids’ development. Caitlin Mullen. Feb 20, 2019. affects-kids-development.html?page=all 

Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Examining the Effects of Texting, Twitter, and Message Content on Student Learning. Kuznekoff J et al. Communication Education. 64(3) · May 2015.

Light emitted from digital screens can cause irreversible damage to eyes, research shows. Jan 27, 2017.News Medical and Life Sciences. damage-to-eyes-research-shows.aspx 

Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Mol Vis. 2016; 22: 61–72. Gianluca Tosini, 

Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain. Psychology Today. Dr. Victoria Dunckley. Feb 27, 2014.

A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop Students who used longhand remembered more and had a deeper understanding of the material. June 3, 2014. Cindi May. notes-with-a-laptop/ 

Kindle and Nook readers: You know you don’t own those books, right? JUL 10, 2019. biblioracle-0714-20190710-2ykhjy4db5fangevs5ukax2dhm-story.html 

A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens.

AB 537 Creates a “Deemed Granted” Remedy for all Wireless Applications, Including Small Cells. April 14, 2021 BB&K .

League of California Cities. Legislative Update: Public Works Officers Institute. March 2021. California 2021 Bills- Support and Oppose

VETO REQUEST: AB 57 (Quirk) Wireless Telecommunications Facilities.League of Cities. 2015.

City of Los Altos Opposes SB 556.

Fiberoptic Microtrenching Impact on Streets and Infrastructure. Dec 14, 2020. Fullerton Observer.

Microtrenching fail drives Google Fiber out of Louisville.Feb 8, 2019. 

Evaluation of fiber optic installation methods, a case study on micro-trenching in Alberta, Canada.Aug 17, 2017. FACETS Journal.

Physicians for Safe Technology