Cell Tower Lease Law Basics: Towers Can't Be Banned But Can Be Changed

March 13, 2014 Industry News

Setting up cell towers in U.S. cities is legal, so long as they stay within the bounds of state and federal law. Some areas have height limits for towers, while other communities require cell towers to be inconspicuous and blend in with their surroundings.

In Ridgewood, NJ, residents and local officials were baffled to find a cell tower that seemingly popped out of nowhere and stood there for months. An inquiry into the matter revealed that the test tower belonged to AT&T to determine whether or not the site was a good place for a cell tower. The tower was 100 feet in height, but zoning laws only permitted up to 75 feet.

illegal 100-foot cell tower in ridgewood goes unnoticed for months

The test tower has been moved to a different location. However, this brings up several matters like the relationship between cell towers and the law.

Telecommunications Act of 1996

The baseline for modern telecom infrastructure in the U.S. began with the passing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Act allowed telecommunication companies to freely compete in the market. Quantum leaps in fiber-optics and computer technology also paved the way for intensified competition. Despite concerns regarding several sections, local laws managed to work around them, specifically Section 704, which states that complaints or refusals should be reasonable and submitted in writing. This section clearly gives companies protection from outright ban by local laws, but still gives communities the rights over a tower’s modification, general placement, and construction.

Zoning Regulations

Investors looking to get a good cell tower lease on a particular property must learn about zoning regulations in the area. Although local ordinances vary, most communities prohibit the construction of cell towers close to residential communities and public areas. Instead, telecommunication companies are encouraged to erect their towers close to industrial and commercial areas. Most local laws also prohibit building new towers if structures like water towers and rooftops can integrate telecommunications equipment, which can be an advantage for some companies because new construction is often costly.

You can consult investors like TowerPoint Capital to learn more about cell site infrastructure as well as what a smooth cell tower lease buyout entails.

(Source: Illegal 100-foot cell tower in Ridgewood goes unnoticed for months, The Record [c/o], January 27, 2014)