Proposed FCC Rules Push 5G Forward | Citizens Against Government Waste

Proposed FCC Rules Push 5G Forward

The WasteWatcher

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to make it easier than ever for communities across the nation to bring cutting-edge wireless service to millions of Americans. 

On September 26, 2018, the FCC will vote on a proposed rule that will hasten nationwide implementation of 5G cellular infrastructure. If adopted, the rules would limit the burdensome restrictions that local governments often place on the installation of “small cell” devices such as permitting fees, maintenance fees, and wait times.

Many local governments see the push to rollout 5G technology as a potential source of revenue derived from permitting, installation, and annual maintenance fees.  In larger cities where 5G rollout would have the greatest impact, local authorities effectively prohibit any small cell development by charging fees that exceed the overall project cost, because they possess sufficient leverage over wireless companies to demand greater rents to access these dense urban markets.

In some instances, many localities have delayed reviewing applications to install new cells or they have used zoning ordinances to either place restrictions on the appearance of small cells or prohibit installation out of concern for the aesthetic or historical value of the community's scenic areas. Unlike legacy cell towers that could reach well over a hundred feet, creating a blight on local landscapes, 5G small cell devices such as those designed by Nokia or Huawei, typically measure no more than a couple of square feet and can be mounted on top of existing telephone or light poles. Additionally, designers are increasingly adapting small cells to complement communities' aesthetic environments.

The FCC's proposed rules, modeled after several state laws enacted within the last year, define the maximum dimensions of small cell devices that will benefit from reduced fees and waiting times, provides exemptions for historic districts, maintains reasonable compensation of up to $100 per small cell installation and up to $270 per year for maintenance and leasing, ensuring that communities are compensated for their aesthetic concerns. The Commission's rules will also reverse the regressive nature of permitting fees, which forces wireless companies to devote more resources to building in urban centers before expanding service to rural communities.

Twenty states have recently introduced legislation to advance small cell deployment.  Indiana's legislature led the charge on this front with a law passed in March 2018 that limited permit fees to equal a city's costs and preempted restrictions on residential deployment.  Pennsylvania has considered including state-based support to help local governments speed up the processing of a backlog of small cell permit applications. The FCC's proposed rule will also impose limits on small cell permit application wait times to 60 days, or 90 days if an installation requires a new pole or other structure.

Improving the timeframe of 5G deployment and reducing the cost for 5G buildout will allow everyone to reap the benefits of incredible download speeds, the Internet of Things, telehealth applications, and much more, sooner than we might have expected.

-- Alec Mena

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