The California Public Utilities Commission has issued General Order 170, which will substantially improve the process for telecommunications carriers to obtain environmental review when they deploy new facilities in California. The Order clarifies that the CPUC, not local jurisdictions, will play the lead role in conducting environmental reviews. The Order is intended by the CPUC to increase regulatory certainty for carriers and expedite the deployment of fiber optic cable, wireless antennas and associated infrastructure such as conduit and utility poles to support the deployment of broadband services. The CPUC concluded that broadband deployment is a matter of statewide concern, and that it has the sole jurisdiction to ensure that the "clear and oft reiterated policy" of the California legislature encouraging the widespread deployment of advanced telecommunications services are carried out.
Although additional authorization for ministerial permits may be required from other state agencies or local authorities, the CPUC concluded that it is best suited to issue any required discretionary permits and to evaluate the physical change in the environment caused by carriers' construction projects. The CPUC stated, "local agencies may not use their discretionary land use authority to effectively prohibit projects that are in compliance with the operating authority granted by the Commission." If a local jurisdiction has a dispute with a carrier over a construction project, the local jurisdiction must come to the CPUC for resolution. The Order is intended to prevent the sometimes years-long battles that carriers have encountered with local anti-wireless opponents. Two groups have asked the CPUC to reconsider its decision, but General Order 170 has not been stayed. Interested parties filed comments on the reconsideration requests on or before February 8, 2011. To see iCommLaw’s analysis of this issue, please click here for recent press coverage. Contact iCommLaw for further information.