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For the very first time, since the GSR has been reporting on the verifiable fact that the cell phone companies do not have their towers turned on, the city government officials have finally taken note. The Lake Geneva City Council is preparing to onerously charge these cell phone companies if they refuse to turn their cell phone towers on.  The cell phone companies, one and all, have been cowering down and avoiding this issue, since what happens in Lake Geneva can very quickly go national, costing these providers millions of dollars.

Here’s what an analysis of the federal laws (FCC) governing such things says:  The federal law does not specify whether cellular towers are personal or real property. So that issue transfers to the individual states.

An article from the State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue website (  states that under Telecommunications Property Tax in Wisconsin Statutes Sec.76.80 the telephone companies are assessed as ad valorem property tax and that the tax revenue that the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) collects from telephone companies goes into the state’s general fund. The article further states that Telecommunication property is exempt from local property tax administered under Chapter 70 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

However, it adds that non-telecommunication property that changes its use to telecommunication is shifted from local property tax to the state telecommunication property tax and vice-versa.  The vice-versa comment at the end of that statement should apply to non-transmitting cell towers because Sec.76.80 of the Wisconsin Statute clearly uses the words “is used to provide” and “means the transmission of…” in defining the portions of the telecommunications property that are subject to the Telecommunications Property Tax and are therefore exempt from local property tax. Since unused cell towers and the property on which they are located do not meet either the being “used” or the “transmission” requirements, they should not be exempt from local property tax. In addition, other examples of telecommunication property that is not being specifically used for transmission is a list in section 76.80 that includes examples of telecommunications property that are not exempt under Telecommunications Property Tax but are taxable under other taxes. The intent of the Telecommunications Property Tax under Sec.76.80 is clear that property and equipment owned by telecommunication companies, but not used for telecommunications is not to be included under the Telecommunications Property Tax and therefore “Non-Transmitting Towers” should not be exempt from local property taxes.”

There is nothing in the federal law that keeps the City of Lake Geneva from taxing these companies, in whatever amount it chooses, for maintaining cell phone towers in the Lake Geneva area.  The cell phone companies can remove their towers, or they can keep them there and turn them on without incurring a huge tax.  They can also simply pay the tax, if they so choose, which will be significantly more than the electricity bill they are currently avoiding paying in order to provide terrible service to the entire Geneva Lake set of communities.

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