Munis Vow Legal Action Against FCC Over Small Cells Order

Mayors of several cities vow to fight the FCC’s recent small cell order in court, arguing it’s an example of federal overreach.

Inside Towers reported before last week’s vote to ease small cell siting, that several localities were unhappy with the move to curb siting costs and speed paperwork to permit wireless infrastructure on publicly-owned land. Now, several localities, like Seattle, say they plan to sue. Others, like Portland, already have filed suit, ArsTechnica reported.

The order limits what localities can charge for permitting wireless infrastructure to be sited within a public right-of-way and sets timetables that localities must follow to make a decision on a permit. The FCC order suggests up-front application fees of $100 for each small cell and annual fees of up to $270 per small cell. Portland typically charges $3,000 per year for application fees, according to the Oregonian.

Big Cities like San Jose, Chicago and New York City also expressed dissatisfaction with the order, Inside Towers reported. They called it a “giveaway” to wireless carriers. However, the carriers say they need regulatory certainty. They also need the deployment costs to be cut. The carriers say deployment costs are so high now, and permitting takes so long, they’ve had to cut back projects significantly in some cases and abandon their plans in others.

FCC officials this week reiterated why the change is needed to speed the deployment of wireless infrastructure for 5G.

Anticipating lawsuits, Pai told reporters after the vote last week, he believes the agency is on safe legal ground with its order. His Chief of Staff, Matthew Berry, told attendees at a spectrum conference this week the new order, “respects local control. All fees must be non-discriminatory and cost-based.”

Verizon State Public Policy Director Paul Vasington said at the conference, the news headlines about the issue are overblown. The order doesn’t allow “carriers to deploy without input” from munis, doesn’t eliminate the need to meet electrical, health and safety codes, and doesn’t require munis “to subsidize private investment,” he said.

October 5, 2018                     

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