GAO Says Small Cell Review Exceptions OK

The Government Accountability Office okayed a recent FCC rule change exempting some small cell fixtures from environmental and historic reviews. The aim is to speed deployment of 5G infrastructure.


The GAO concluded the Commission followed the correct administrative channels in enacting the rule, it said in a letter to Sens John Thune (R-SD) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) Chair and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Commerce Committee and Rep. Greg Walden and Frank Pallone (D-NJ) Chair and Ranking Member, respectively, of the House Commerce Committee. It makes a legal determination that the deployment of small wireless facilities by non-federal entities is neither an “undertaking” within the meaning of the National Historic Preservation Act nor a “major federal action” under the National Environmental Protection Act, according to the GAO.

The rule clarifies the deployment of small wireless facilities on non-tribal lands will not be subject to certain federal historic preservation and environmental review obligations; it leaves intact the existing requirement that construction and deployment of larger wireless facilities, including deployments regulated with the Commission’s antenna structure registration system or subject to site-by-site licensing, must continue to comply with those environmental and historic preservation review obligations.

The rule also amends the process for tribal participation in historic preservation reviews for large wireless facilities where still required; removes the requirement that applicants file environmental assessments solely due when a proposed facility is in a floodplain as long as certain conditions are met; and establishes timeframes for the Commission to act on environmental assessments.

The rule passed at the agency’s March meeting. It was published in the Federal Register as a final rule on May 3, triggering a July 2 effective date.

Published May 6, 2018

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