House Judiciary amends broadband bill

January 19, 2019
The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee hears an explaination of a bill from counsel Brian Casto, back left, Friday morning.

CHARLESTON - The West Virginia House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee on Friday passed an amended version of the proposed Broadband Expansion Act of 2019, combining a Senate bill with the original.

House Bill 2005, the Broadband Expansion Act of 2019, will allow electric companies to study the feasibility of constructing and operating middle-mile broadband internet projects to serve certain unserved and underserved areas, as well as establishing the West Virginia Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act and allowing access to public rights of way for the collection of small wireless facilities.

The Judiciary Committee replaced the language in the original bill dealing with small wireless facilities with the language from Senate Bill 3, the West Virginia Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act. SB 3 was scheduled for second reading in the Senate on Friday, but it was laid over a day.

Brian Casto, counsel for the committee, said the Senate language has been agreed upon by interested stakeholders, including the West Virginia Municipal League and AT&T.

Small wireless facilities are smaller antennas that can be attached to already existing utility poles and will open the state up to 5G wireless capabilities, which are billed as being more advanced that current ones.

The bill allows for utility poles to be assessed at “salvage value” for tax purposes. This tax cut will cost the state $2.5 million in loss of property taxes, according to the fiscal note. Casto said fiscal note is determined using the current rate of tower construction, and the hope is the tax cut will incentivize more towers to be constructed, resulting in a gain.

Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, voted in favor of the bill, but said she was concerned about the constitutionality of using salvage value for taxing special groups. Casto said the premise has been used in the past, specifically for aviation hangars, and the Supreme Court of Appeals has never issued an opinion on the move.

Andy Feeny, a representative for AT&T, said the tax incentive is just one factor of many that companies consider when deciding where to place new towers.

Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, the sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday in the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee that AT&T committed to spending an additional $50 million in the state of West Virginia for small wireless facilities, and not only that, but $25 million of that was committed to being placed in unincorporated areas.

The committee voted to send the bill to the House floor with a recommendation it pass. There was some indication from delegates that amendments may be submitted during the floor discussion.

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