Verizon sues City of Rochester over 5G fees

US telco Verizon has filed a lawsuit against the City of Rochester, suggesting a newly created telecommunications code violates federal law and the maximum fees telcos can be charged.

Filed in the District Court for Western New York, Verizon’s lawyers will be attempting to argue that the implementation of the new telecommunications code by the city will prohibit the rollout of 5G technologies in the area. This is of course early days, though it could go some way in creating legal precedent throughout the US.

Using FCC rules which were passed last September, Verizon will argue the newly adopted telecommunications code in the City of Rochester violates the maximum fee of $270 a year which can be charged by the local governments. Although we were unable to figure out how much each site could cost Verizon annually, it does appear to run into the thousands.

“To better serve its customers and the City and to begin to serve new customers and provide new services, Verizon Wireless seeks to extend, densify, and upgrade its wireless network infrastructure, including to install additional Small Wireless Facilities to support the provision of current and next-generation telecommunications services such as 5G and to deploy fiber to connect these facilities,” the filing states.

“To successfully do this, Verizon Wireless requires new approvals from Defendant to access City property.

“As a result of Defendant’s actions, Verizon Wireless has been, and will continue to be, damaged and irreparably harmed absent the relief requested herein. The harm caused by Defendant’s unlawful actions includes, but is not limited to, an effective prohibition on Verizon Wireless’s ability to provide telecommunications services in the affected area of the City.”

Similar to regulatory changes in the UK with the new Electronic Communications Code, the FCC is attempting to protect the interests of the telcos. As real-estate owners know the telcos have no choice but to increase the number of cell sites to provide the promised 5G experience to consumers, they are in a position of power. The new rules from the FCC, and the creation of the $270 annual limit, is supposed to create a responsible transaction which benefits both parties.

However, it does not appear the City of Rochester agrees with the position of the FCC. In creating its own telecommunications code, it does appear higher fees can be charged for cell sites, while some officials state they are attempting to reduce potential clutter and eyesores created by the additional mobile infrastructure.

Looking at the timeline, Verizon wrote to city officials to ask for revisions to the code on January 10 and February 7, before the code was enacted on February 20 without any amendments, taking effect on April 1. Another letter was sent on April 15 questioning whether the code was compliant with federal law, with city officials finally responding on April 30 suggesting they were happy with the set-up. On July 30, the city officials demanded payment from the telco.

In short, Verizon is claiming the fees are acting as a prohibitor to the delivery of connectivity in the city, therefore federal law is being violated.

What is worth noting, that due to the focus on mmWave for the delivery of 5G services in the US, more cell sites will have to be deployed. This is unavoidable, as to deliver the higher speed promised by 5G, higher-frequency airwaves will have to be utilised. This does not appear to be a problem, however coverage distance will have to be sacrificed leading to the densification plans set-forward by the telcos.

Although this is the first lawsuit of this nature which has been brought to our attention, we suspect there are numerous other local governments attempting to sweat public assets to secure more funding. This is one of the first, but this might become quite a common lawsuit to read about over the coming months and years, as densification strategies gather momentum.