Delaware State Legislature passes Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Investment Act

Southern Delaware’s rural nature can be a blessing and a curse, especially when it comes to wireless signals.

Some coastal police departments have complained about dropped calls. A small business that operates from a cell phone or tablet might suffer from poor response time because of slow service. A group of friends with Verizon, Sprint or AT&T might complain about poor reception in different parts of the county.

The Delaware State Legislature recently passed the Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Investment Act, aiming to make Delaware a more hospitable place for wireless companies to improve service.

“In recognition of the shift from landline to wireless communications, the act authorizes wireless providers access to the state’s rights of way and establishes a statewide policy for deployment of small wireless cells to meet the growing demand for wireless services,” the bill synopsizes.

Although they aren’t considered public utilities, wireless service providers play an important role in daily life. And they should soon be able to apply for permits through the Delaware Department of Transportation to place small wireless facilities on utility poles in the roadway, such as an antenna that takes up no more than 6 cubic feet of space.

HB 189 is aimed at helping prepare Delaware for the next major shift, into digital communications, and keep the First State competitive in a global economy.

Some towns, including Fenwick Island, specifically forbid wireless structures on residential or commercial buildings. But DelDOT controls most roadways, so they can help providers offer better wireless service with devices on existing utility poles.

That puts Delaware in a more competitive spot to attract better wireless service.

“It puts us in front of the big states. And Delaware being a small state, that’s to our advantage,” said Terry Tieman, Fenwick Island town manager. “As you know, utilities are in business to make money, so this helps us a great deal.”

HB 189 passed the Delaware General Assembly and this week awaited Gov. John Carney’s signature. It had 17 sponsors and passed unanimously (with five absences).