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Telecommunication utilities on Mercer Island encompass conventional wireline telephone, wireless communications (Cellular telephone, Personal Communication Services [PCS], and Specialized Mobile Radio [SMR]), and cable television.

On February 8, 1996, the President signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law. Its overall intent is to develop competition in the telecommunications marketplace by allowing local telephone exchange carriers to provide long distance telephone service, as well as, cable television, audio services, video programming services, interactive telecommunications and Internet access. Similarly, long distance providers, cable operators and utilities are now permitted to offer local exchange telephone service. The legislation represents the first major rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

The 1996 Act states that “No State or local statute or regulation or other State or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate telecommunications service.” It further provides that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) shall preempt the enforcement of any such statute, regulation or legal requirement. However, the bill protects the authority of local governments to “manage the public rights of way or to require fair and reasonable compensation from telecommunications providers, on a competitively neutral and nondiscriminatory basis for use of public rights of way on a nondiscriminatory basis, if compensation required is publicly disclosed.” Thus, the City can still exercise control over the use of public rights of ways and generate revenues from the grant of access to such rights of way to telecommunications providers.

CenturyLink Communications provides local exchange telephone service for all of Mercer Island. In early 1999, (then) U S WEST was serving an increasing number of access lines (telephone numbers) in the Mercer Island exchange area. This growth is more fully discussed below in the “Future Needs” section. CenturyLink and its predecessor have served communities in Washington for more than 100 years. CenturyLink is regulated by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and the Federal Communications Commission.

Mercer Island has seen its wireless communications service providers grow from two in 1995, to an excess of four in 2015. As of the 2014 there are 34 wireless communications facilities installed on the Island. These installations are regulated by the FCC.

Cellular communication involves transmitting and receiving radio signals on frequencies reserved for cellular use. Signals to and from cellular phones are routed along a series of low-powered transmitting antennas located at “cell sites.”

In 1999, AT&T was serving approximately 6,318 customers on Mercer Island through 65.9 distribution miles of overhead lines and 26.2 distribution miles of underground lines. In 2004, Comcast served 6,700 cable customers and 3,530 high-speed internet customers. In 2014, Comcast served 8,900 customers.

The data services offered by Comcast originate at a primary transmitter site in Bellevue. Comcast’s receiving apparatus on Mercer Island is contained in facilities located at 4320 – 88th Avenue SE.

The cable industry was deregulated by Congress in 1984, launching an almost 10-year period without local rate regulation. In November 1993, the City received certification from the FCC, pursuant to the 1992 Cable Act, to regulate basic cable service rates.