Verizon Suing Milwaukee to Allow New Telecom Poles Ahead of Republican National Convention

Existing infrastructure is insufficient to handle extra traffic from the 2024 Republican National Convention: Verizon.

Verizon Suing Milwaukee to Allow New Telecom Poles Ahead of Republican National Convention
Photo of downtown Milwaukee by Amy Meredith.

WASHINGTON, November 29, 2023 – Verizon is suing the City of Milwaukee to construct poles for its mobile wireless network.

Milwaukee denied Verizon’s request to construct poles for three small cell sites – short range antennae that increase a network’s capacity – across from the city’s Fiserv Forum arena.

The complaint, filed November 24, is looking to overturn those denials.

Verizon says the extra infrastructure is needed ahead of the 2024 Republican National Convention, which is set to be hosted at the arena. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the event is expected to draw 50,000 people, with city officials planning to bring in 4,500 extra law enforcement officers.

That heightened traffic is almost certain to be too much for Verizon’s existing network, the company said, and could lead to coverage blackouts. The city, for its part, claimed the proposed poles would “obstruct or hinder travel” and are “out of character” for the area.

The suit is one of several in which telecom companies are fighting municipalities for pole access or construction in recent years. The major infrastructure company Crown Castle has sued five cities since 2018, with Verizon and T-Mobile each going to court multiple times over the issue since 2015.

Telecommunications providers have also been butting heads with private utility companies over pole access, to the extent that the Federal Communications Commission is contemplating setting up a “rapid response team” to mediate pole attachment disputes ahead of the Biden administration’s $42.5 billion broadband expansion effort.

Those disputes often relate to timely access application reviews and the allocation of pole replacement costs associated with additional telecom equipment. The FCC has authority under the 1996 Communications Act to set the terms of pole attachment deals between telecom carriers and private utility companies. That does not include publicly owned utilities or broadband providers that are not covered by Title II of the Communications Act.

The commission’s standing policy is to prevent utilities from passing those replacement costs on to telecoms if a new pole is not “necessitated solely” by new communication equipment.

That has not stopped disagreements, though. In thousands of public comments and meetings with commission staff, telecommunications companies have argued that utilities unfairly pass the entire cost of replacement on to them, even when poles are already unsafe and would need to be replaced regardless. Utilities say they would not normally replace the poles being used by telecom companies, either because they are structurally sound or to phase out old lines, and don’t benefit from the installation of newer poles.

The same proposed rules that would set up a rapid response team might also be a boon to telecoms. The rules would put more limits on when a utility can force an attacher to pay for pole replacements.

The FCC will vote on the rules and other measures at its December 13 meeting.