Advisory Committee Tells FCC to Take Down Deployment Barriers

From left: Ajit Pai, Mignon Clyburn and Jonathan Adelstein at the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee meeting. Photos by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers

The FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee is closer to issuing recommendations to the FCC on how to reduce several types of regulatory barriers to broadband infrastructure deployment. The advisory group approved several draft recommendations at its third meeting of the year last Thursday and they plan to approve final recommendations at the next meeting on January 22 and 23, 2018.

Several FCC Commissioners addressed the all-volunteer group. Chairman Ajit Pai told the group as they began their all-day meeting: “The internet is poles, cables and physical infrastructure. Building these networks is hard and the government shouldn’t make it harder. When you find answers” to eliminating “barriers to wired and wireless infrastructure access will grow. That’s why it’s important that we get this right.” Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said even when the group handles all of the obstacles to pole attachments and access to rights-of-way, they “may be tempted to celebrate,” but that would be premature, “obscuring a simple reality that not every broadband problem is an infrastructure problem. For all Americans to be truly connected we cannot ignore … affordability.”  

WIA President Jonathan Adelstein chairs the Streamlining Federal Siting working group. Some 30 percent of the land in the U.S. is owned by the federal government and it’s often the last place infrastructure is sited due to varying and unpredictable fees and rates, lengthy application reviews and un-harmonized forms across agencies, to name a few reasons. “It’s a shame and we’re going to try to change that,” he said, noting the White House is supportive of the group’s efforts. “The administration wants to ensure implementation is consistent across all federal agencies.”

The larger BDAC okayed the working group’s draft recommendations that include all siting fees on federal land be set at a national level with a published rate schedule and that all agencies use standardized forms and processes. The group recommends implementing a 60-day shot clock for application review with “deemed,” meaning automatic approval if the paperwork is not acted on by the deadline.

Kelly McGriff of Southern Light, who chairs the Model Code for States working group, said “there’s disparate coverage in this country. We’ve talked to folks affected by this, like the teacher who’s taking her students to McDonald’s every morning” so they can do schoolwork. “They pay taxes just like the other side of town where they have connectivity.”

The working group sees its recommendations as modular so states can pick and choose what fits best for them. It’s designed to alleviate the need for a new entrant to negotiate separate franchise agreements with each municipality in a state, similar to franchise models several states use for cable, he said. This spurred a spirited discussion, and not everyone agreed to take a franchise-based approach to siting infrastructure. One participant noted that all the working groups are stuck on this issue, with industry representatives believing a cost-based system is correct while states and municipalities prefer a market-based approach. BDAC Chair Elizabeth Bowles, of wireless internet provider Aristotle, said the issue needs further discussion.

A working group on gaining access to infrastructure such as poles, ducts and conduits in a timelier way led by Ken Simon of Crown Castle, recommends a 180-day shot clock for action on a pole attachment complaint. The group for removing barriers at the state and local level identified common obstacles: ambiguity, excessive fees, discrimination and inflexibility. Much of this happens when local government laws can’t keep up with the rate of technology change and/or they lack resources, said Robert DeBroux of TDS Telecom. The group recommends greater transparency in the way fees are calculated.

Finally, much of the debate centered on a model code for municipalities concerned whether a line should be included encouraging local governments to follow fair labor and safety standards. Discussion was split between those who agreed broadband deployment should be swift yet also safe, versus those who think the language is too specific and not necessarily related to broadband.

To see specific recommendations, click here.  

By Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers

November 13, 2017               

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