A proposed state law that would give wireless companies the ability to install small cell antennas on publicly owned utility poles, streetlights and rights of way appears to have momentum in Springfield, despite objections from area officials.
On Monday, the mayors of Aurora and Naperville were joined by other municipal and county leaders to publicly voice their opposition to the measure that would establish the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act.
They said Senate Bill 1451 would limit their authority to regulate the location and deployment of the antennas and impose artificially low fees for both the review of permit applications and the use of publicly owned equipment.
Still, the Illinois House approved the measure on Tuesday and the state Senate is expected to vote on it Thursday.
"Right now, it looks like it's on track for Senate action," said Todd Maisch, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. "We're working to make sure legislators are very comfortable with it and understand the benefits."
If it's approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, supporters say the measure will attract investment in the latest wireless networks in Illinois. They say that would result in faster mobile internet and more jobs.
"This is a smart way to speed the adoption of 5G technology when it comes to the state of Illinois," Maisch said.
He said putting the "large suitcase-sized" antenna boxes on existing streetlights and utility poles allows for the next-generation mobile technology to be rolled out in a fast and efficient manner.
"You're getting more benefit out of existing infrastructure, as opposed to having to go out and build a whole bunch of new towers," Maisch said.
Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said he and other officials support bringing 5G technology to the state.
"Our residents want it," he said. "They use these services. We just want to make sure we don't lose control so the rollout could be done thoughtfully."
Aurora officials said the measure as proposed would prevent local governments from prohibiting, regulating or charging for the installation, mounting, maintaining, operating or replacement of the small cell antennas. In essence, it allows private companies to have a monopoly over public infrastructure, they said.
The concern is that thousands of antennas will be placed throughout the region with local governments getting no say in the matter.
"I don't know of one mayor anywhere that supports this," Chirico said.
Still, Chirico said he believes it's likely the Senate will approve the measure because it passed it once already. The second vote is needed because the House made some changes to the bill.
Even if the Senate approves it, Chirico said Rauner has yet to weigh in on the issue.
"My hope right now is that the governor will back up the mayors," Chirico said.
State Sen. Terry Link, who sponsored Senate Bill 1451, released a statement Wednesday saying it's important to have infrastructure in place to support advancements in technology.
"Small wireless facilities are an integral part of future 5G wireless networks," the Lake County Democrat said. "This measure will help ensure a smooth transition to 5G and allow Illinois to stay at the forefront of new wireless technology."