FCC Gets Small Cell Siting Order Over Goal Line

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In dramatic fashion, the FCC pushed the order to streamline small cell siting over the finish line yesterday. The Commission’s order limits the fees localities can charge for reviewing small cells in a public Right-of-Way, sets shot clocks on those reviews, and affirms local governments can apply reasonable aesthetic considerations. The effort was controversial, because many localities say the order will deny them the right to effectively govern small cell placement in a ROW. 

During the vote, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stressed how he and Commissioner Brendan Carr, made it a point to discuss the draft order with local governments to get their input. Carr said the order ensures, “No city is subsidizing 5G.” Carr stressed that economists believe the changes will save $8,000 per deployment of each small cell, money that could help bring 5G deployments to more places.

If the U.S. doesn’t act to ease such deployment, other countries will, Carr said. China “wants to lead the tech sector for the next decade. They are moving aggressively to deploy the infrastructure needed for 5G. Everyday, China is deploying 460 cell sites. That is 12 times our pace.”

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel split her vote, but said the item essentially consists of “three unelected officials telling states and localities what they can do in their own backyards.” Noting that groups like the National Governors Association and National Conference of state legislatures asked the Commission not to pursue this path, Rosenworcel said the agency doesn’t have the authority to dictate siting terms to localities.

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who “enthusiastically” supported the item, wished the order could have included macro towers. He said the agency needs to recognize macro towers will still play a vital role in 5G deployment. “Eighty percent of the population lives in suburban or rural areas where macro towers are the most effective way to transmit signals,” said O’Rielly, who was quoting what American Tower has told the Commission, without naming the towerco. He also urged his colleagues to wrap-up the twilight tower proceeding, saying: “It is time to bring this embarrassment that started in 2001 to an end.”

Summing up the need for the small cell siting changes, Pai discussed the FCC’s efforts to carve out more spectrum for wider broadband deployment. However, he cautioned, “all the spectrum in the world won’t matter if we don’t have the infrastructure we need to carry 5G network traffic. New physical infrastructure is vital for success in 5G.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

September 27, 2018