To prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public, the governors of New York and Connecticut issued Executive Orders reducing the in-person workforce of all non-essential businesses and not-for-profit entities by 100%. Only essential businesses or entities providing essential services are exempt from the workforce reductions. These prevention and protection measures resulted in non-essential businesses shifting to “work-from-home”; schools in both states to suspend classroom teaching for on-line instruction and everyone relying on wireless networks for essential goods and services, such as telemedicine. In addition, first responders and the general public rely on adequate telecommunications when calling-in and responding to emergencies.
Recognizing that reliable wireless service is critical during this state of emergency, telecommunications are deemed “essential infrastructure” by both New York (Executive Order 202.6) and Connecticut (Executive Order No. 7H). In New York Executive Order 202.13 the New York State Empire State Development Corporation (NYSESDC) reaffirmed that construction by utility companies, such as telecommunications providers, is indeed essential and exempt from the workforce reductions. The federal government also identifies the continued operation and growth of telecommunications capabilities as vital during this unprecedented time. On March 16, 2020, the Director of the United States Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, National Communications Coordination Branch issued a directive ordering cooperation and access to allow telecommunications providers to maintain their infrastructure to ensure the continuation of communication capabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notably, federal timeframes applicable to telecommunication siting matters remain in full force and effect to ensure that telecommunications providers can continue to deploy their essential infrastructure and provide the essential service. The FCC “shot clocks” which require telecommunication applications be reviewed and, in many cases, mandate approval of permits within a specific time frame by municipalities, are not overriding by the New York and Connecticut Executive Orders tolling legal statute of limitation periods for matters within the State’s jurisdiction and control.
The telecommunications industry’s exemption from workforce limitations and compliance with the federal timeframes for infrastructure deployment and upgrades are more critical now than ever. Telecommunication providers must continue to meet the public’s needs during a time when wireless networks are experiencing a significant spike in telecommuting and the use of telecommunications for social interaction as a result of nation-wide work from home and social distancing directives. Sufficient, reliable wireless coverage and capacity are no doubt paramount during this global pandemic. We encourage all municipalities and telecommunications providers to work purposefully in processing applications and meeting the need of local communities through enhanced wireless network infrastructure so relied on during this pandemic.