Slow It Down: Muni’s, Utilities Tell FCC There’s No Hurry on Small Cell Siting

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and several municipalities say there’s no need for the FCC to streamline small cell siting in public rights-of-way, and because 5G development is in its early stages, it’s “unlikely” the wireless industry can prove a widespread problem exists. Wireless providers say local and state governments unreasonably delay processing permitting for wireless infrastructure in public rights-of-way and charge excessive fees — all hindering current deployment and 5G deployment in the future if not corrected, Inside Towers reported (see  here and here).

NARUC says the comments filed in response to the Mobilitie petition for a ruling to streamline siting just show that a utility must pay for access to public rights-of-way and that different configurations and placements in different communities have varying prices. “Given the wide difference in property values and tax bases among communities, this is to be expected,” says NARUC, cautioning the FCC to “tread lightly.” Public rights-of-way are used for many things and a detailed review of cell tower and wireless telecommunications facilities applications is needed to ensure approval will not raise safety or reliability concerns for current users, according to NARUC.

“Consider that the FCC could not step in and tell a private landowner what compensation he must take to allow a tower company to use his or her land,” said NARUC, adding such decisions should be made locally, “not by an agency thousands of miles away with no local knowledge, expertise or — significantly — accountability to local and voting citizens.”

San Francisco City and county told the FCC they’ve permitted hundreds of wireless facilities on utility poles in an expeditious manner and at reasonable cost and has made more than 26,000 poles that it owns in the public rightofway available for the installation of DAS and small cells. They disagree with Mobilitie and wireless associations that say the FCC needs to require a shorter application processing limit for DAS and small cells. San Francisco has been able to process those within 90 days only because it limits how many are reviewed each week. “These facilities still require significant local review. Many local governments could be hardpressed to meet shot clock deadlines shorter than 90 days for co-locations and 150 days for new wireless facilities.”

Four associations in Pennsylvania representing nearly all of the commonwealth’s 2,600 municipalities told the FCC their rights-of-way fees are not excessive and they do have a streamlined siting process. “Right-of-way management must be reserved to the local governments that have a legally mandated obligation to protect their citizens and to balance the need for wireless broadband service with the need to preserve the character of their communities.”

They agree with NARUC that no wireless carrier or contractor “has identified a genuine problem that requires further intervention by the Commission.”

March 16, 2017   

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