As part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011, recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, municipalities are required to approve certain applications for modification of “an existing wireless tower or base station.” In part, the law supersedes Section 332(c)(7) of the Telecommunications Act, which previously granted municipalities broad discretion in siting wireless towers, antennas and other related facilities.

The language of the new law states:

Notwithstanding [Section 332(c)(7)] of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-104) or any other provision of law, a State or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base.

It is anticipated that tower companies will claim that municipalities are required to approve requests for changes to facilities unless the changes substantially alter the size of the facilities. Many municipalities currently maintain ordinances that address the initial placement and modification of wireless facilities. Therefore, changes may be necessary to these ordinances to incorporate this new law.

The new law became effective immediately, and therefore, is currently applicable.

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