How Cable and Telecommunications Expertise Saved the Day in Cleveland

The city of Cleveland joined the GMA’s Cable and Telecommunications Management Services program back in 2014. While GMA had helped the city on many occasions, the service really impressed Cleveland City Clerk Connie Tracas earlier this year.
“In January, GMA sent us a notice about a small cell antenna company that was contacting cities and encouraged us to adopt a utility right of way permit ordinance,” Tracas said. “Following GMA’s recommendations, we did that in February. In March, we received a notice of an application from that company to install what they described as a 120-foot-high ‘utility pole’ on the city’s right of way. That request raised a red flag for me, and I knew something wasn’t right.”
Within a day after contacting GMA, Tracas received a letter from one of GMA’s cable/telecommunications experts for her to respond to this company. The letter denied the company’s application because they didn’t follow Cleveland’s right of way utility permit ordinance that the city put in place just a month before. Since then, Tracas hasn’t heard back from the company and the pole was not installed.
In this interview, Tracas delves further into the importance of GMA’s Cable and Telecommunications Management Services program, how it helps cities save money, and how it protects cities’ best interests.
Why was this situation an important illustration of your city needing additional cable and telecommunications expertise?
Companies will approach cities acting like they’re a utility similar to Georgia Power. But if you don’t know much about them and you’re not getting alerts from GMA, then that company may end up installing a 120-foot pole on your right of way that you don’t want.
Anticipating that situation, GMA gave us a sample right of way utility permit ordinance. Our city attorney reviewed and modified it to fit us and we adopted it. Consider the timeliness. GMA knew this situation was happening to cities. Their cable and telecommunications experts have their ear to the railroad tracks and know what’s coming. And that’s important to us because we don’t always keep up with such things.
Why is keeping up so tough?
Like many cities, Cleveland doesn’t have a city administrator or city manager. Our day-to-day business takes up most of our time. If we weren’t a Cable and Telecommunications Management Services member and received that alert, then it wouldn’t have dawned on me that we needed some assistance so that the company didn’t take advantage of our city. Cleveland thrives on tourism, and those extra poles would have lessened the city’s quality of life for residents and visitors. With our staff’s time so limited, there’s no way we can keep up with everything going on in the area of cable and telecommunications. So that’s why it’s helpful for us to subscribe to this service.
Other than this particular situation, how else does GMA’s Cable and Telecommunications Management Services program help you?
GMA supports and continues to help us with our franchise agreements with utility companies. With all of the day-to-day work we have to juggle, GMA helps us by keeping up with the current cable and telecommunications laws and trends. When we joined, GMA reviewed all of our fees that we were receiving from companies and found that one company wasn’t paying what they should have paid. We got that corrected. Currently, GMA is working on a right of way use agreement with another company.
Overall, GMA stays on top of this area, keeps us up-to-date, answers our questions, and helps us respond appropriately to companies. We don’t have the resources for franchise fee auditing. Plus, we’re not just dealing with telephone poles any longer. There’s so much more happening in the world of cable and telecommunications than telephone poles. Sure, it’s good to have a person audit our franchise fees, but the true value of GMA’s service goes beyond auditing.
For other cities who may not see or understand the value of this program, what would you say to them?
No matter what size your city, if you’re growing and developing then you likely don’t have time to keep track of cable and telecommunications laws and trends. Even larger cities usually don’t have staff to keep up with this area. This service is such a good resource for auditing, information, and guidance. If other city clerks and cities are like Cleveland, then they’ll appreciate the kinds of notices that GMA sends us.
That’s what GMA did for us in January, and it really helped the city. If someone can give us assistance or advice on helping protect our city, then that’s always a good thing. Otherwise, this situation would have negatively impacted our city if we did not have GMA’s foresight, guidance, and encouragement to implement the utility right of way permit ordinance.

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