FCC Officially Returns Rules Allowing Small Cell Historical, Environmental Site Reviews

The FCC has officially rescinded the portion of its rules that exempted certain wireless facilities deployments from local environmental and historic preservation reviews.

That came in an order from the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, which indicated there had been no need to put the order out for public notice and comment since it was simply implementing a court mandate from which the FCC had no discretion to deviate.

Over the objections of local government officials and the reservations of Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC voted in September 2018 to streamline the path to small cell deployment, including the rules on site reviews, billing it as crucial to the rollout of 5G wireless service, an FCC and Trump Administration priority.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit back in August ruled that the FCC did not justify its deregulation of those reviews and vacated that part of the larger wireless deployment deregulation order. Critics of the FCC decision had said rolling back the rules was an abrogation of local authority over siting and was running roughshod over important environmental and historical issues in the rush to 5G.

The court mandate to roll back the rules became effective Oct. 7, when that ruling was published in the Federal Register, and the bureau put out the order Oct. 8 repealing "the subsection of the Commission’s rules implementing the small wireless facilities exemption, and delet[ing] a cross-reference to that subsection contained elsewhere in the Commission’s rules."

The result of the order is that "deployments of small wireless facilities are subject to review to the same extent as larger wireless facilities pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA)." 

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.