FCC Clarifies Wireless Buildout Streamlining Rules

The FCC plans to vote on a "5G Upgrade" order next month to clarify some of the steps the FCC has taken, motormannned by Commissioner Brendan Carr, to speed tower citing, upgrades, and other elements of wireless network buildouts. 

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the item Monday, calling it the latest attempt to modernize its wireless infrastructure rules. It clarifies the FCC's interpretation of legislative language that said “a state or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station.” 

He translated that to: "[W]e want to resolve uncertainty about section 6409(a) in order to expedite the process for state and local governments to review applications to deploy wireless infrastructure." 

But he left it to Carr to provide details, which he did in a speech at the Wireless Information Association's (WIA) virtual conference.

The draft of the order, which Carr said was being circulated Tuesday afternoon (May 19), would:  

1. Clarify when the FCC's 60-day shot clock on localities reviews of a wireless builder's documents. 

2. Clarify what equipment can go on existing structures. 

3. Spell out distinctions between concealment elements--having to make a tower look like a tree or a flagpole--and other conditions related to aesthetics, and clarifying that aesthetic conditions can't be enforced "in a way that negates our other rules that promote streamlined approval." 

Carr said the item will help separate tougher project approvals from ones that can be more easily and quickly achieved. It is also responsive to petitions from CTIA, the wireless industry association, and the Wireless Infrastructure Association.  

“America’s tower crews and telecom techs are building the strongest 5G network in the world," Carr said. "Their efforts already are creating new jobs and opportunities in towns across the country. By streamlining tower upgrades, we will encourage even more investment in our communities and new service to connect families,” said Carr. “Rural America will benefit from new competition for their broadband dollars. First responders will benefit from dedicated networks and expanded capacity. And all Americans will benefit from world-leading wireless service as existing towers are upgraded to 5G.” 

"I applaud Commissioner Carr for his work on the 5G Upgrade Order and am very glad to see the Commission will vote on the order during its June Open Meeting," said Competitive Carriers Association president Steven K. Berry. "I thank Chairman [Ajit] Pai and Commissioner Carr for their commitment and leadership on infrastructure reform. Infrastructure is the backbone of wireless networks, and streamlining burdensome, unnecessary processes will greatly benefit carriers wishing to enhance and expand their networks. Ultimately, consumers stand to be the real winners, and I commend the Commission for its plan to consider further reform at its upcoming Open Meeting.” 

NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association joined in the praise for the 5G upgrade order. 

“On behalf of the Association’s over 980 member companies who enable wireless connectivity, NATE commends Commissioner Carr for his ongoing leadership in helping spearhead initiatives that will streamline 5G deployment in the United States. The measures outlined in Commissioner Carr’s 5G Upgrade Order will serve to help scale 5G in the country and allow more communities, enterprises and citizens to experience the benefits of next-generation wireless technology,” said NATE president/CEO Todd Schlekeway. 

“Recent events have shown that reliable networks are necessary for Americans to work and learn remotely," said Computer & Communications Industry Association president Matt Schruers. "Upgrading to 5G networks is a critical step in building the infrastructure needed for the 21st century, CCIA supports the Commission’s efforts to facilitate 5G deployment.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.