Industry Applauds FCC Move to Ease Rules for Wireless Antenna Construction

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Sept. 27 --Wireless groups hailed a notice of proposed rulemaking unanimously put forth Sept. 26 by the Federal Communications Commission aimed at streamlining application procedures for companies seeking to deploy new wireless facilities.

Wireless providers often must seek approvals from certain local and federal agencies and adhere to a multitude of zoning, historical preservation, environmental and tribal construction requirements. Such hurdles increase the financial and regulatory costs of wireless broadband infrastructure deployment and can delay the delivery of wireless services to customers, said PCIA--The Wireless Infrastructure Association in previous FCC filings.

The commission acknowledged the increased deployment of small cell antennae and distributed antenna systems (DAS) as a means to supplement traditional wireless towers where towers' construction would be impractical or inefficient. As a result, a greater number of small cell and DAS antennae are needed to provide sufficient coverage, thus increasing the amount of construction approvals required by local municipalities and federal entities like the FCC.

“Newer technologies can be deployed on utility poles, street lamps, water towers, or rooftops -- a big reason why they are becoming more common,” said acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn. “The time is ripe for the commission to look at updating our rules for these new technologies.”

Said FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai: “Federal regulations that were written with two-hundred-foot-tall towers in mind just don't make sense when applied to recent innovations like small cells.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel lauded the proposal, which she said will “reflect the emerging reality of new wireless deployments.”

Small Cell Exemptions

The notice of proposed rulemaking issued Sept. 26 seeks comment on whether the FCC should expedite environmental impact reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 when companies want to mount wireless antennae on existing structures, or adopt a categorical exclusion for such deployments.

The NPRM also:

• asks for comment on whether exclusions to the Section 106 review process of the National Historic Preservation Act should be permitted for the deployment of new antennae that are not significantly larger than existing antennae on existing structures;

• seeks to clarify the terms of Section 6409 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-96) to make it easier for companies to add or swap out wireless antennae on existing structures; and

• seeks comment on whether temporary wireless tower deployments should be narrowly exempted from environmental reviews and whether the FCC's “shot clock” -- its time frame for reviews -- should be applied to certain antenna construction assessments.


The proposed rulemaking would “help speed wireless infrastructure deployment to bring the benefits of mobile broadband to America's wireless consumers,” Scott Bergmann, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA--The Wireless Association, said in a press release. “We thank the Commission for advancing CTIA's request to facilitate the siting of temporary towers, as well as proposing to streamline the siting process for small cells and distributed antenna systems, collocation issues and application of the FCC siting shot clock.”

The commission “hit the nail on the head by acknowledging that common-sense reforms are needed to modernize historic and environmental review processes for the deployment of DAS and small cells,” said PCIA President Jonathan Adelstein. “They recognize we can't treat every DAS node like a 500-foot cell tower.”