Tribes and Trade Association Want FCC to Rethink Small Cells Order

UPDATE An Indian tribe, telecom association and several localities want the FCC to overturn all or portions of a May decision that exempts small cells deployed on non-Tribal lands from National Historic Preservation Act Review (NHPA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review. The order is due to take effect July 2.

However, the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) and several localities filed Petitions for Reconsideration at the FCC last week. The tribe tells the Commission it doesn’t want to impede implementation of 5G, however the Order “undermines an important national interest — preservation of historic lands and places.” The change also “will inflict serious injury” on the tribe and doesn’t support “wholesale limitations” on the tribes’ ability to be compensated for the “burden imposed by an applicant,” it says.

The FCC doesn’t have the authority to exempt 5G networks from the reviews, according to the tribe. “The Commission rests its decision primarily on the size of 5G components. While individual 5G network elements may be smaller than analogous components in the older cellular infrastructure, the 5G network will, according to the Commission itself, be ‘dense’, and promises to constitute an extensive, intrusive, constantly expanding infrastructure, wherever located,” says the tribe.

NATOA tells the agency, the order ignores the impacts of densely packed deployments in a small geographic area and that needs to be addressed. Verizon anticipates the need for “10 to 100 times more antenna locations than previous technologies,” while AT&T estimates “hundreds of thousands of wireless facilities” will be needed, according to the group. NATOA notes the Order “dismisses commenters’ concerns about multiple small cells on a single pole, stating ‘there are practical limitations on how many small wireless facilities can fit on a single pole.’”

The question of whether a pole may end up looking like a macrocell deployment after a series of mandatory co-locations under Section 6409 [47 U.S.C. § 1455] does not address the impacts of many deployments within several hundred feet or less of each other, according to the group. Section 6409 requires localities to approve co-location and okay more equipment on the pole or close to it, NATOA reminds the agency. “Nowhere does the Order address the impacts of multiple ground-mounted cabinets and other equipment sited near or on many poles in a small geographic area.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

Published June 12, 2018

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