Siting Panel Says the Focus Is On Micro Not Macro Towers

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“We will all be busy in the next year redecorating the street furniture.” That’s how Stephan Sloan, director at Media Services Group and session moderator, summed up the infrastructure panel at the 7th Annual Americas Spectrum Management Conference yesterday.

The impact of the FCC’s recent order to ease small cell siting on publicly-owned property dominated the discussion.

Matthew Berry, Chief of Staff to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, said estimates show the U.S. needs to add an additional 800,000 cell sites by 2025 to enable 5G. To make this happen, he said, the agency realized its siting rules could no longer be tied to the needs of tall towers. But he made clear, “5G isn’t going to eliminate the need for tall towers.”

The new order “respects local control. All fees must be non-discriminatory and cost-based,” said Berry. Channeling Frank Sinatra, Berry said: “As far as infrastructure policy, I believe we’ll look at 2018 and say it was a very good year.”  

Latency is taking a “big jump” with 5G, said Dennis Roberson, Chair of the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council. “The only way to achieve 5G latency is to move the base station closer to the end-user,” he said. Cell sites that were once on top of buildings are “now vacant,” as small cell infrastructure “moves to street level,” he said.

Concerning the new small cells order, Roberson said: “Though it has been and is being challenged, the FCC seems to have established a reasonably balanced approach to this difficult issue.”

American Tower Corporation General Counsel Rich Rossi emphasized that macro towers will still be part of the backbone of 5G, saying, “I think we will see low and mid-band [spectrum] deployment over macro sites.” Carriers are looking for cost-effectiveness and a stable regulatory environment to site infrastructure, he said. The company has more than 40,000 macro tower “assets” in the U.S and 170,000 worldwide, he told Inside Towers.  

Verizon State Public Policy Director Paul Vasington said the carrier has faced challenges with “access, timeliness and costs,” in siting infrastructure. “We’d go into a city or town and their rules for antennas were meant for macro towers. We’d also see moratoriums.” That’s why it began working three years ago on efforts to “standardize, not preempt,” local control.

Citing a Gizmodo headline that he said stated the FCC “kneecapped” localities in its small cells order, Vasington said: “That’s not what this does!” 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.

(*editor’s note: Inside Towers publishers Eddie Esserman and George Reed are also partners in Media Services Group, a radio, TV, and tower brokerage firm.)

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by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

October 4, 2018     

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