Municipalities cannot block construction of wireless towers in public rights-of-way simply because they are perceived to be eyesores, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

The decision is a victory for wireless operators, which often struggle to erect towers that would let them improve coverage in a given area. Many municipalities like La Canada Flintridge, Calif. — the plaintiff in this case — have opposed proposed towers, deeming them unsightly (see story on page 35). But the appeals court unanimously said blocking a tower for aesthetic reasons was illegal, citing a California law that gives companies broad authority to locate infrastructure in public rights-of-way.

In October 2004, a district court judge ruled that La Canada Flintridge failed to demonstrate that wireless carrier Sprint PCS, building towers in the public right-of-way, would negatively impact public safety in the area but upheld the city's ordinance to bar the towers on the basis of aesthetics. Sprint PCS appealed the decision, which led to the reversal by the 9th Circuit.