T-Mobile Sues After San Francisco Rejects Cell Tower Permits

Wireless carrier T-Mobile filed a complaint Wednesday in the Northern District of California against The City and County of San Francisco and its Department of Building Inspection after they failed to grant T-Mobile’s applications to modify wireless transmission facilities in the city. The proposed modifications are meant to meet demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and to make improvements, the complaint said; the defendants purportedly violated the Spectrum Act because of their failure to act within 60 days of the filing of the application.

T-Mobile said it started to submit applications to the city of San Francisco in order to perform upgrades and modifications in June, but the company “encountered significant delays by the City.” The complaint stated that under the Spectrum Act, “the City must act on T-Mobile’s modification application within 60 days,” however, “for a group of 27 applications submitted by T-Mobile between June 24, 2020 and August 14, 2020, the City had not acted on the applications even by late October 2020, well over 60 days after they were submitted.” 

The company claimed that San Francisco notified T-Mobile that its “applications were incomplete.” After the purported delay, in pursuant to the Act and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules, T-Mobile notified San Francisco that the applications were deemed granted. Furthermore, T-Mobile stated that since it sent the notice, San Francisco has only granted permits for 11 out of the 27 applications, but there are 16 applications yet to have a permit issued by the city.

Specifically, T-Mobile sought declaratory relief “affirming the ‘deemed granted’ status of sixteen Eligible Facilities Request applications T-Mobile made to the City of San Francisco for the modification of T-Mobile’s wireless transmission facilities pursuant to Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act (which is codified at 47 U.S.C. § 1455(a)).” Under the Spectrum Act, “a State of local government may not deny, and shall approve any eligible facilities for a modification of an existing tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station.”  

T-Mobile is represented by Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.