The New York Appellate Division ruled that telecommunication companies’ fiber optic cables do not qualify for a property tax exemption for such property that transmits radio and television signals. (New York Real Property Tax Law, §102(12)(i)(D).) The New York Court of Appeals had previously ruled in T-Mobile Northeast LLC v. DeBellis (December 13, 2018) that telecommunications installations and fiber optic cables are taxable as real property under New York law but did not address this particular exemption.

Reversing the lower court, the Appellate Division rejected the telecommunications companies’ position that any exempt usage of the property, no matter how slight, would be sufficient to satisfy the exemption. Any other interpretation, the court stated, would allow all fiber optics cables that allow cell phones to “stream video, television, and other programming,” to be excluded from taxation even if the property is used to a minuscule degree in such manner. “That, however, conflicts with the Court of Appeals’ determination in T-Mobile Northeast, LLC that such property is taxable.” Rather, the court concluded that the only reasonable construction of the statute would be that fiber-optic installations are exempt only when primarily or exclusively used for an exempt purpose.

1) Level 3 Communications LLC v. Erie County, Case No. 18-01598.
2) Level 3 Communications LLC v. Chautauqua County, Case No. 18-01575.