Recently, a City of Clemson cable customer contacted the City to express concerns about the quality of her cable service. At one time, the City would have been able to assist the resident by requiring the provider to meet the quality of service required by a municipal franchise agreement between the City and the service provider. However, the South Carolina legislature took this local government power away, giving sole authority to issue cable franchises to the State, with the passage of the South Carolina Competitive Cable Services Act. Consequently, if a local customer has a complaint against a cable company today, the City cannot help them. Instead, the customer’s recourse is to lodge a complaint with the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs.
The State Legislature is now rushing through similar legislation concerning the placement of small cell wireless facilities in the rights of way belonging to towns and cities in South Carolina. Two bills, S.638 and H.4262, were introduced at the state level on March 12th and March 19th, respectively. While these bills claim to be concerned with providing better wireless service to South Carolinians, they appear to be companion bills that would affect the ability of the Clemson City Council to have any control over small cell antenna locations and appearance of said structures. This legislation benefits wireless providers at the expense of limiting local authority to control the nature, height, and appearance of wireless equipment placed in its local rights of way. For example, as currently written, new and modified poles can be as high as ten feet above the tallest existing pole in the same right of way or fifty feet above ground level, whichever is greater.
We already have existing master lease agreements with both Verizon and AT&T that meet their needs while providing appropriate guidelines to protect the City's right-of-way and aesthetic considerations. As these small cell antennas will likely become increasingly prevalent in the future, the Clemson City Council feels that there is a public need to regulate the location and appearance of these structures. Reasonable control and regulation of them is best left in the hands of those elected officials that have the local knowledge of our community in their decision-making tool kit. This is certainly one subject matter that the General Assembly should not attempt to address with a "one size fits all" mentality as what works well in Clemson may not work well in Myrtle Beach or Walterboro. Simply stated, the City is concerned that these bills would give nearly unfettered rights, to wireless communications companies, that are unwarranted and undeserved.
You may or may not be interested in whether wireless companies locate wireless facilities in downtown Clemson, or in the right of way in front of your home or business. However, every municipal resident and business should be concerned about the State legislature’s unconstitutional erosion of Home Rule by grabbing powers lawfully held by local communities. Absent citizen opposition, the legislature will likely continue to take away local governments’ abilities to assist their own residents and govern their own communities. City officials have communicated their feelings regarding this proposed legislation asking representatives to speak with the Clemson City Council about their concern, and we encourage all citizens to consider what this proposed legislation could mean for the City of Clemson.
Please take a few minutes today and contact the members of our delegation to ask them to oppose H. 4262/S. 638, and to protect Home Rule for local residents and communities, including the vesting of municipal ordinances that are in place at the time this bill is formally adopted and signed into law.
The Honorable Thomas C. Alexander, Senator
The Honorable Gary E. Clary, Representative