Pai ‘Gets’ Small Cell Siting Challenges


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Broadband deployment and the transition to 5G were dominating topics at Wednesday’s FCC oversight hearing by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. Net Neutrality was as well and to some extent, new Chairman Ajit Pai’s efforts at process reform.

Closing the digital divide and upgrading the Mobility Fund and Connect America Fund, which help companies bring telecommunications to rural and poor areas, are among his top priorities, Pai said during the more than two and a half hour hearing.

Told by Senators that some residents of remote areas of Nevada and Colorado need to carry two cell phones in order to ensure service, Pai said expanding access on public and Tribal lands is part of his agenda. That includes easing siting, such as making pole attachments and rights-of-way access easier and minimizing fees for providers.

“Currently it takes twice as long if you want to get a permit for federal land as opposed to private land,” said Pai. “We want to ensure small cells are not subject” to the same kinds of rules telecoms face for siting infrastructure now, he said, saying 5G deployment will need “denser cells.” 

Commenting on the hearing, WIA President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein appreciated that “members of the FCC understand that the responsible and efficient deployment of wireless infrastructure is vital to the nation’s continued economic growth.” Pai and O’Rielly “testified that the FCC and Congress must work toward reducing regulatory obstacles that stand in the way of deploying facilities and delivering mobile broadband to communities throughout the country.” WIA is pleased they stressed “the urgency of streamlining wireless infrastructure siting and highlighted the need for better access to federal lands and properties to provide greater wireless service to rural America,” Adelstein said.

Pai favors “Dig Once” policies, saying they make sense. When you “dig up a road why not install a conduit so a provider can lay fiber at the same time?” he asked rhetorically. Another option is getting more commercial spectrum for fixed wireless use in areas where wireline is not economical to deploy, Pai said during the hearing.

Asked about takeaways from her “Connecting Communities” 11-state tour, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said, “Every single challenge we have can be improved by broadband connectivity.” Noting that the business case can’t always be made, she suggested the FCC, NTIA and other agencies come together on the issue. “You should not have to relocate in order to survive and be productive in communities.” Indeed, Pai said making that business case for providers to connect rural areas and making the price affordable to consumers is one of the charges of the newly announced task force on broadband deployment.

Finally, concerning process reform, Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) was “heartened” by actions Pai has taken “not to consolidate power.”   

For Part 2 of this story, click here.

March 9, 2017     

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