FCC Seeks Comment On Co-location of Wireless Antennas

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The agency on May 12 said it wants to amend the current Nationwide Programmatic Agreement for the Co-location of Wireless Antennas (Co-location Agreement) to account for the limited potential of small wireless antennas and associated equipment, including Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) and small cell facilities, to affect historic properties. “We also propose minor amendments intended to clarify pre-existing provisions of the Co-location Agreement without modifying how those provisions will be administered going forward,” said the notice from the Wireless Bureau.

The amendments are intended speed the national build out of the wireless infrastructure and advance the creation of the much-discussed 5G network. FCC said it hopes the agreement amendments will “enable swift and responsible deployment of wireless broadband services – including deployments that will support next generation 5G wireless service offerings – while maintaining the vital role that States and Tribal Nations play in reviewing projects with potentially significant effects.” The Bureau added, “As FCC Chairman (Tom) Wheeler has observed, the evolution to 5G is a “hinge moment” in technological advancement.” The Bureau’s proposal is designed to leverage this moment and facilitate nationwide wireless broadband deployment while ensuring at the same time that the Commission’s rules reflect the NHPA’s values and obligations.

Under the Co-location Agreement, the FCC said most antenna co-locations on existing structures are excluded from the historic preservation review, with a few defined exceptions to address potentially problematic situations. In the Infrastructure Report, the FCC recognized that “DAS networks and small cell facilities use components that are a fraction of the size of traditional cell tower deployments and can often be installed on utility poles, buildings, and other existing structures with limited or no potential to cause adverse effects on historic properties.”                 

The proposed amendment order aims to streamline DAS/Small Cell networks and promote their deployments, particularly in historic areas. For instance, a new stipulation offers an “exclusion for small wireless antennas and associated equipment mounted on buildings or non-tower structures or in the interior of buildings that are over 45 years of age if they are not historic properties and are outside of historic districts.” The FCC said, “under the terms of the proposed exclusion, a small wireless antenna may be mounted on an existing building or non-tower structure or in the interior of a building regardless of the building’s or structure’s age without review under the Section 106 process set forth in the NPA unless the building or structure is inside the boundary of a historic district, or if the antenna is visible from the ground level of a historic district, the building or structure is within 250 feet of the boundary of the historic district, the building or structure is either a designated National Historic Landmark, or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.”

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