FCC Proposes Expanding OTARD to Cover Wireless Hubs

The FCC has unanimously proposed to expand its over-the-air reception device (OTARD) rule, which prevents governments, landlords and home owners associations from blocking the use of satellite receivers on a customers owned or leased property, to wireless internet service provider hubs serving multiple users--homes and businesses.

That came in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking approved unanimously at last week's public meeting, and which was sought by the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA).

The rule "prohibits laws, regulations, or restrictions imposed by State or local governments or private entities that impair the ability of antenna users to install, maintain, or use over-the-air reception devices."

The FCC wants to expand the definition of user from customer to provider.

The FCC billed the proposed change as another of its efforts to make it easier to deploy broadband infrastructure, particularly to rural and unserved/underserved areas, and to help FCC rules keep pace with changing technology.

Just as cell sites have gotten smaller and more numerous, so hubs need to be more numerous and placed closer to customers.

The FCC updated its OTARD rules to cover fixed wireless antennas in 2000, but hubs got left out. The FCC says that was because that change was responsive to the times. "The Commission’s decision in the 2000 Competitive Networks Order to limit the applicability of the OTARD rule reflected the infrastructure needs of a previous generation of wireless technologies that relied on larger antennas spread over greater distances to provide service to consumers."

But times and technology have changed, the FCC signaled, and the rules should change with it.

Related: Little FCC Reforms Can Have Big Benefits for Rural 

"We anticipate that revising the OTARD framework would allow fixed wireless providers to deploy hub and relay antennas more quickly and efficiently and would help spur investment in and deployment of needed infrastructure in a manner that is consistent with the public interest." It sought comment on whether that was the case, and will need to approve a final order before the change would take effect.

“The small changes will have a big impact on deployment across the country,” said WISPA president Claude Aiken. “Streamlining siting of fixed wireless hubs will enable our members to have greater freedom to bring more high-speed Internet to more Americans, helping them better participate in our digital economy.”

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.