High Court Action

The Supreme Court stayed out of a dispute over how much leeway local governments have to control cellular telephone companies’ installation of antennas to broaden their service areas.

The court, without comment today, turned down Omnipoint Communications Enterprises’ argument that it was improperly refused permission to install an antenna in Newtown Township, Pa.

Omnipoint sued under the 1996 federal Telecommunications Act, which bars local governments from enacting laws that would “prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of wireless services.”

Omnipoint applied for a permit to put antennas on top of an apartment building in Newtown Township. The town zoning board denied the permit in 1998.

The company sued, and a federal judge ruled for the company. The judge said Newtown’s zoning policy violated the telecommunications law because it, in effect, barred placement of antennas anywhere in the township. Other companies were able to install antennas because officials “looked the other way,” the judge said.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision last March. The court said it is not sufficient for a cellular phone company to show that it was denied a chance to fill a gap in its own service area.

The case is Omnipoint Communications vs. Newtown Township, 00-353.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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