Tallahassee Democrat: Ziffer: Bill could destroy character of communities
As Florida’s legislators stroll along Adams Street toward the Capitol, I hope each takes a moment to consider the horrifying prospect of flower beds and landscaping littered with something that looks like old used refrigerators and a tangle of wires.
Impossible, you may think. It could happen. In fact, there’s a terrible idea before the Legislature that would strip away local government’s authority to guide the look and feel of our community – and it would do the same to every other city in Florida.
This legislation would allow the telecom companies to put antennas and other equipment on existing government structures, like utility poles and street lights, with no local control. If there aren’t any structures where they need them, they could install new poles as tall as 60 feet high – and there’s nothing any of us could do about it.
The giant national telecommunications companies are trying to get something for nothing. Every Tallahasseean – every Floridian – who cares about the look and character of their hometown should rise up and tell their legislators to stop this corporate handout.
SB 596 and HB 687 are examples of the state attempting to overrule local authority, this time in the name of giving a windfall to a lucrative industry. Rather than approaching local governments as potential partners in the quest to bring the latest wireless communications capabilities to Florida, giant telecom companies are pushing for carte blanche access to municipal rights of way. That land is supposed to be used to benefit the public, but this would put it to work padding Big Telecom’s bottom line.
I’m as much a fan of innovative technology as anyone, but not when it comes on the backs of taxpayers.
The telecom companies wouldn’t even be responsible for disposing of equipment once it becomes obsolete. The taxpayers would have to pay for structural reports to make sure the new structures meet building codes, and the taxpayers would have to pay to remove the old equipment.
The big telecom companies will say it’s all about providing citizens with the most advanced technology, but it’s also about their desire to reap all the benefits of expanded offerings with none of the costs associated with obtaining it.
Big Telecom will argue that much of their equipment is smaller than the 60-foot poles, 10-foot antennas and refrigerator-sized transmitters allowed by the legislation. But the legislation wouldn’t allow bigger, if bigger wasn’t in the plans somewhere.
Clearly, Big Telecom doesn’t cherish Florida’s communities the way we do. We want our public resources being used to enhance public safety and enjoyment of life, not to line the pockets of mega-corporations.
This legislation could devastate the local character of every community in Florida. That’s why each community must speak out, and each legislator must remember that the best government is the one closest to the people – and those people are their constituents, too.
Gil Ziffer is a Tallahassee City Commissioner and First Vice President of the Florida League of Cities.