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Come now, don't be beastly to cellphone giants, Supremes tell America's town halls

If you're going to reject a phone mast, give time for an appeal

The US Supreme Court has made it a bit easier for telcos to build cell towers in America.

On Wednesday, the court ruled in a majority decision [PDF] that city governments must provide mobile network giants a reasonable amount of time to appeal when deciding on applications to build phone masts.

The Supremes said Roswell, Georgia, acted against the law when it stopped T-Mobile US from erecting a cell tower in the city and was too slow explaining the reasons behind the rejection. That delay caused T-Mob to run out of time to appeal.

According to the court, the city's council voted against the new tower at a meeting, and T-Mobile US was told of the decision two days later.

However, it took 26 days for the council to publish its minutes of the meeting, detailing why the proposal was shot down. This, the company argued, was not enough time to prepare a proper appeal, and promptly sued the city.

That all kicked off in 2010; about four years later, the Supreme Court agreed with T-Mob, holding up an earlier verdict in its favor by a district court.

"Although it issued its reasons in writing and did so in an acceptable form, it did not provide its written reasons essentially contemporaneously with its written denial when it issued detailed minutes 26 days after the date of the written denial and 4 days before expiration of petitioner’s time to seek judicial review," the Supremes.

This ruling could pave the way for telcos to more easily build new towers in the US – since it's clear companies must be given time and information to prepare a decent appeal to planning decisions.

Dissenters on the panel, who included Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ginsburg, argued that the council's first letter to T-Mobile US, alerting it to the decision, met the requirements of the law, and that notification of the decision - sans meeting minutes - is enough explanation.

"The impact on cities and towns across the nation should be small, although the new unwritten requirement could be a trap for the unwary hamlet or two," they wrote. "All a local government need do is withhold its final decision until the minutes are typed up, and make the final decision and the record of proceedings (with discernible reasons) available together." ®

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