FCC Votes To Ease Wireless Infrastructure Deployment

Makes it Easier to Deploy Cell Towers, Related Equipment
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The FCC voted unanimously Friday (Oct. 17) to make it easier to deploy wireless infrastructure, yet another step in the commission's broader move to spur broadband deployment.

The item extends various exclusions from environmental and historical impact restrictions for wireless buildouts, including co-locations of new equipment on existing structures, and clarifies that shot clocks and other measures to ease infrastructure buildouts extend to distributed antenna systems and small cells.

State and local entities won't be able to deny further modifications of existing sites that do not change the physical dimensions, and fixes a 60-day deadline for action.

The expanded exclusions come with the caveats that the additional equipment does not materially affect the impact of the existing structure, and does not apply to historic districts or structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said she was able to support that 60-day deadline only after CTIA: The Wireless Association and PCIA: The Wireless Infrastructure Association, agreed at the 11th hour to help localities with limited resources to meet that deadline, including informing municipalities of best practices and educating them about the application process.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said that to have a wireless revolution, an infrastructure evolution was needed, and the FCC had begun that with Friday's vote on the item, as well as another item to begin exploring use of high-frequency bands for mobile. What the FCC does today goes beyond towers, she said. They are the first steps to encourage infrastructure that is absolutely critical, including the small cells and distributed antenna systems that will be critical to the next generation of wireless. "The race to 5G is on," she said.

Commissioner Ajit Pai pointed out he had been calling for such streamlining since he got to the commission, while Commissioner Michael O'Rielly hammered on some localities for dragging their feet on tower citing. Both drew a distinction between stepping into the tower citing and co-locating process, which they support, and the FCC stepping into preempting state regs on municipal broadband, saying that Congress had given the FCC specific authority in the case of the wireless infrastructure moves.

O'Rielly pointed out that the deadline means that wireless companies can build on day 61 if applications are not acted on by day 60.

“I applaud the Commission for modernizing its wireless infrastructure rules and establishing a framework to facilitate smarter and faster infrastructure deployment," said CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker. "Today’s Report and Order helps limit unnecessary delays in carriers’ ability to upgrade networks with cutting-edge technologies and provide additional coverage or capacity; streamlines review processes to ease deployment of small cells and Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS); and formally adopts CTIA’s Petition to permit the speedy deployment of temporary towers."

"Today's order is an important and welcome step by the FCC to ensure consumers have access to great mobile services and helps ensure that the U.S. maintains its global leadership in mobile broadband deployment," said Verizon SVP Kathleen Grillo.  "This order streamlines the regulatory process and speeds deployment for new, innovative wireless network facilities. Such policies, paired with upcoming auctions that will bring new spectrum resources to market, are great news for consumers and broadband innovators looking to deploy new wireless equipment and services.”