Wireless Siting in Vermont: 5 Things to Know

Vermont is most known for its beautiful scenery on billboard-free roads, maple syrup, craft beers, organic farms, world-class boating on Lake Champlain, and superb Eastern skiing. With a population of just over 620,000, and still proudly flaunting that it has no building taller than 124 feet in the entire state, building a network to offer wireless services should not be that hard, right?

Not exactly. On top of challenging topography for getting service to where it’s needed, Vermont has some important – often Byzantine – legal requirements to work through.  Here’s a taste of the “must knows”:

  1. Dual Permitting Regime – Don’t Be Caught Unaware.

In Vermont, two sets of land use permitting affect virtually every new wireless project – regardless of size and scope. First, local zoning regulations or bylaws have been adopted in virtually in every municipality, many of them which have very exacting (if not impossible) requirements designed to discourage new support structures.  Second, Vermont’s statewide land use statute called Act 250 overlays additional requirements, fees, and fines on the same projects. DRM is well-versed in both of these procedures for virtually all of Vermont’s municipalities, and has the litigation team to prosecute appeals in superior court when challenges arise from adjoiners and/or municipalities.

  1. Section 248a – The Better Option.

Vermont allows carriers and infrastructure developers the option of permitting new and modified facilities through the Vermont Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) with a more streamlined set of criteria, reduced or no fees, and a greater account of Rf need than is the case with the dual permitting regime. The certificate of public good issued by the PUC is a “super-permit” that has the effect of pre-empting Act 250 and local zoning requirements altogether. Unlike a zoning or Act 250 permit, a CPG never expires. Over the past 10 years, DRM has helped to chart the way for use of this procedure to secure approvals for hundreds of new sites and modified arrays. 

  1. CMRS Registration – A Small Price for A Big Reward.

Any carrier planning to offer wireless pursuant to an FCC commercial mobile radio service (“CMRS”) license must, before being able to take advantage of Section 248a, register with the PUC to offer wireless service in the state. The same does not apply to infrastructure providers, but it is critical to know whether a carrier is CMRS-registered out of the gate. The requirement does NOT apply to WISPs and certain other FCC licensees, based on precedents DRM attorneys helped establish.  The procedure is straightforward, but there are nuances worth knowing that can save time and aggravation.

  1. Division of Fire Safety Permits – A Last Quick Step.

If an applicant obtains a certificate of public good from the PUC under 248a, no building permit is required from local or state authorities to proceed, and the CPG never expires. But there are still filing requirements with the Vermont Division of Fire Safety for building-based sites or new equipment shelters falling within certain parameters. These permits are processed quickly in general, but there are a few traps for the unwary that can be avoided with some good advice. 

  1. 5G Deployments Using 248a – Charting the Future.

Section 248a can also be used to permit multiple sites on existing or replaced utility poles with a single application. Critical to using 248a for small cell / 5G deployment is working with Vermont’s distribution utilities to obtain the necessary licenses, follow or modify tariff requirements, and work through certain features of the Vermont-specific pole attachment rules.  DRM has built the knowledge base to help clients endeavoring to navigate this up-and-coming area. And as with all 5G deployments, it helps to know the rules of the road.