By Steven K. Berry, President & CEO, CCA
In 2010, T-Mobile South, LLC (T-Mobile) was denied permission to construct a tower on vacant residential property in Roswell, GA, and did not receive a timely written explanation from the city council as to why its request was denied until just a few days before the deadline to appeal the city’s decision. The issue was addressed by a federal district court, which found that the city violated the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the “Telecom Act”) by failing to issue a timely written decision that explained the reasons for denying the application. After an appeals court reversed this decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case and, earlier this year, ruled in T-Mobile’s favor. The Supreme Court reaffirmed state and local authorities’ responsibility to provide adequate and timely information to wireless carriers when denying facilities siting requests, a decision applauded by wireless carriers across the country.
Representing more than 100 wireless carriers across the country, CCA (Competitive Carriers Association) supported T-Mobile’s case as a friend of the court and commended the Supreme Court’s decision. Competitive carriers, and particularly those without significant low-band spectrum holdings, depend on predictable access to wireless infrastructure to expand mobile broadband services, manage day-to-day operations and plan for future investment. What’s most important about the Supreme Court’s decision is it provided carriers with much needed certainty regarding siting specifically and broadband deployment more generally. In addition to tower siting, carriers also must have certainty in other areas, including Universal Service Fund (USF) support and access to spectrum – all the critical elements of deploying broadband in urban and rural areas alike.
USF support is essential to deploying ubiquitous mobile broadband – particularly for smaller rural and regional carriers with limited resources, but who still manage to provide services to customers in some of the most challenging areas of our nation to serve. USF support will allow carriers serving rural, regional, and hard-to-serve areas to maintain and expand mobile broadband. Ultimately, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the opportunity and responsibility to ensure competitive carriers have access to critical USF support, which will allow carriers to build out networks and make a real difference for both carriers and the customers they serve. The FCC should deliver on Congress’s intent to provide sufficient and predictable support, to give carriers certainty that their previous investments in high cost, rural areas will not be stranded, leaving behind rusty towers in rural America.
Similarly, competitive carriers must have assurances that they will have the opportunity to bid on and win much-needed spectrum in the 600 MHz incentive auction. The incentive auction provides the next real chance for all carriers to access the highly desirable low-band spectrum. The recent AWS-3 auction, which raised over $41 billion in revenues and will fund FirstNet and significantly reduce the U.S. deficit, demonstrates the tremendous demand for spectrum. Ensuring carriers of all sizes – both large and small – have access to additional spectrum means better service for consumers and more competition in the marketplace.
As the auction date draws near and as the FCC continues to outline its rules and procedures, the Commission must keep in mind the enormous impact its decisions will have on competitive carriers’ ability to compete and thrive in the industry. All carriers must have a meaningful opportunity to participate in the auction, and competitive carriers need the certainty that no one or two carriers will be allowed to walk away with all available spectrum.
The U.S. Supreme Court should be commended for its decision in T-Mobile’s tower siting case. CCA is proud to have participated in a precedent-setting case. Decisions like these help provide carriers with clarity in planning for the future and in day-to-day operations. The FCC should look to the Court’s action as it moves forward with several pending issues, including USF and the incentive auction, to name a few. Competitive carriers and their consumers need clarity and certainty on these issues now; there’s no time to wait.