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Village: You Can’t Put That Pole There 

Northport Village Mayor George Doll and Trustees Tom Kehoe and Henry Tobin consider adopting a local law that would regulate wholesale telecommunication providers use of public rights-of-way.

Looking to “level the playing field” between telecommunication providers, the Northport Village Board of Trustees on Dec. 3 postponed voting on a bill that would prohibit telecommunication system providers that are new to the area from installing equipment in areas of public rights-of-way.

Echoing the concerns of business owners and residents who earlier this year protested the village’s installation of two poles at the corners of main roads, some trustees said the proposed change stems from an interest in preserving aesthetics and safety while others said the law is a great way for the village to produce revenue.

According to Village Attorney Jim Matthews, the local law would raise revenue for the village through special franchise agreements. Trustee Tom Kehoe said the village currently collects roughly $70,000 from several franchise agreements with various television and phone service providers.

The corporations the village is currently in contract with, such as Cablevision and Verizon, have preexisting franchise agreements with the village. Cablevision renewed its 10-year contract with Northport in August 2012.

According to Trustee Henry Tobin, federal and state regulations are imposed upon retail service providers when administering telecommunication services, whether it be through television or phone service.

A “whole new breed” of wireless communication companies have emerged, however, and Matthews said it is in the village’s best financial interest to be “vigilant” when it comes to regulating third-party carriers and subjecting them to the same if not more stringent rules when forming contracts with the Village Board.

“We’re way ahead of the curve, leading the way by managing our rights-of-way use by telecommunication systems,” Matthews said at the Dec. 3 meeting.

Franchise agreements between service providers and municipalities such as Northport are subject to mandated regulations regarding how structures or communication equipment is zoned, installed and maintained. A “new generation” of digital transmission companies that are not subject to the same, stringent state and federal regulations are rarely the sole provider of a wireless service.

Matthews, at the Dec. 3 meeting, said new companies that are surfacing throughout the area are considered “community systems” that rent out available space or useable cell lines, often without using or renting space from cell towers.

Tobin said Tuesday that the new generation of telecommunication systems, unlike larger retail companies such as Verizon, is often utilized for “enhanced transmission” in dead zones, or areas lacking service.

“Most retail providers’ concern is that these current wholesale providers, which are not regulated in the same way…may be able to provide retail end user service without adhering to the same regulations and revenue sharing under the current state of the law,” Tobin said.

Attorney Jim Gaughran, who represented Cablevision at the Dec. 3 trustee meeting, urged the board to include language in the code that would protect pre-existing franchise contracts.

“We [Cablevision] pay a lot of money and pay a lot of fees and we are obligated to follow your laws to do that,” Gaughran said. “We think it’s important to make it clear you’re not interfering with our rights to use public rights-of-way.”

If adopted, the new local law would ensure that regulations such as liability due to accidents, among other things, would be in place and the new wave of wholesalers would be obligated to provide payments to the municipality.

“Northport is shaping a contract…By having the law on the books it will give us a greater authority, a firmer authority, to treat all companies more equally,” Tobin said at the Dec. 3 meeting. “We’re on the cusp of it in Northport and we should take the initiative.”

The official vote was held off until the Dec. 17 meeting, when trustees are expected to vote on an updated version of the bill that will reflect the concerns of residents who attended the Dec. 3 hearing.

“We’re codifying regulations and negotiating each and every term. This is an advanced way of doing it, using the [village’s] power to legislate,” Matthews said.

“This sets the stage for what is required and gives notice to the whole industry about what they need to do when they come into villages; this is the best way to protect you.”

The next board of trustees meeting is scheduled for Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. at Northport Village Hall.

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