CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House Judiciary Committee sent down to the House floor on Friday a tweaked Broadband Expansion Act. The bill sparked a variety of technical questions but no actual debate.

HB 2005 is the Broadband Expansion Act. Committee counsel explained the bills four parts.

First is a provision to provide a five-year tax credit to encourage construction of new cell towers. It’s called the Wireless Technology Business Property Valuation Act. It would tax cell towers built form July 1 this year through July 1, 2024 at salvage value: 5 percent of the original cost. An AT&T spokesman said new towers may cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million.

The spokesman didn’t have any figures on the possible cost savings for this credit or how many new towers it might stimulate, given the variety of other conditions – such as access to power – companies consider when deciding where to locate them.

Roger Hanshaw

The next section, “Make-Ready Pole Access” grants the state Public Service Commission authority to regulate attaching fiver to utility poles. This had been considered last year, but there was debate over whether this fell under state or federal jurisdiction and the FCC has since clarified states can do this.

This section also directs electric utilities to undertake feasibility studies on attaching fiber to their poles. Counsel said they already do this for their own purposes, but the study would determine if it’s worth their while to attach enough excess capacity to lease to broadband providers for middle-mile broadband infrastructure.

The fourth part is the West Virginia Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act, which is focused on placing small antenna boxes, called small wireless facilities, in communities to enable 5G broadband access.

The amended House bill, counsel said, incorporates the Senate’s standalone version of this act, SB 3, which is on second reading in the Senate.

Barbara Fleischauer

The bill observes: “The deployment of reliable small wireless facilities and other next generation wireless and broadband network technology is a matter of statewide concern and critical to the continued economic development and diversification in the state of West Virginia. … Wireless providers must have access to certain public rights-of-way and the ability to attach or collocate [meaning co-locate] on existing infrastructure that will permit these providers to offer next generation wireless and broadband technology.”

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, supported the bill but raised the only matter of debate. The state Constitution, she said, declares that taxation shall be equal and uniform throughout the state and “one species of property … shall be taxed higher than any other species of property of equal value.”

Offering the limited tax credit put those towers at an advantage over those already built and those that will be built after July 1, 2024. This may be unconstitutional.

Noting that caution, the committee passed the bill unanimously. Speaker Roger Hanshaw is pushing this bill and was on hand to watch the vote.

 

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