AT&T Sues County For Denying Cell Tower Facility Request

Late last week, New Cingular Wireless PCS, doing business as AT&T Mobility, filed a complaint in the Southern District of Illinois against Monroe County, Ill.’s Board of Zoning Appeals and Board of Commissioners for the purported “unlawful denial of a wireless communications facility siting request” in violation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as well as state and local laws.

According to the complaint, the Telecommunications Act “preempts State and local decisions that ‘prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services,’ and requires that State and local decisions denying requests to place personal wireless service facilities, such as cell towers, be supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record.” AT&T averred that the Monroe County Board of Commissions violated the Telecommunications Act when it denied its application “for permission to construct an approximately 155-foot wireless communication monopole (the ‘Facility’) and related equipment at a site (‘Site’) within a fenced- in, leased portion of a parcel of land located” in the county.

AT&T asserted that the Board of Commissioners based the decision on the Board of Zoning Appeals’ ruling, which according to the plaintiff, had an “erroneous interpretation of County ordinances (that) contradicted those ordinances as properly interpreted, as well as state and federal law.”

In particular, AT&T has sought to install the Facility at the Site in order to fix the “significant service deficiencies in its personal wireless service coverage in the area” as a result of increasing demand causing stress on the network and service disruptions. Accordingly, AT&T considered numerous potential spots for the proposed Facility, but noted that the other locations were “infeasible” and the proposed Site is the only possible option for the Facility in order to close the area’s coverage gap.

The telecom giant contended that the County’s conduct was not “based on substantial evidence contained in a written record,” as required by the Telecommunications Act. Furthermore, AT&T proffered that the Zoning Board’s denial prohibits or in effect prohibits the plaintiff’s personal wireless service provision, again in violation of the Telecommunications Act.

AT&T has sought for the court to permit expedited review of the matter, declaratory judgment, an order requiring Monroe County to approve AT&T’s application and to allow AT&T to install its proposed Facility at the site as well as other necessary permits, and other relief.

AT&T is represented by Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP.