House Dems Seek Delay of FCC 5G Infrastructure Vote

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and eight other Democratic members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee have written FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asking him to delay a Sept. 26 vote on an item billed as streamlining the deployment of much-needed 5G plans—the Streamlining Deployment of Next Generation Wireless Infrastructure item.

While they said they are all for fast deployment of 5G, they say cities and localities have issues that need resolving before any vote.

Among other things, the item would put local governments on a shot clock for tower-sitting decisions, "limit state and local governments to charging fees that are no greater than a reasonable approximation of their costs for processing applications and for managing deployments in the rights-of-way."

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The FCC has advertised the item as "reaffirming local control" over wireless infrastructure decisions, while "ensuring that commonsense guardrails apply to outlier conduct."

The House Democrats don't see it that way.

"[I]n order to achieve the best outcome for consumers, it is crucial that 5G be deployed in a way that carefully balances the interests of both communities and the wireless carriers. The Declaratory Ruling and Order clearly falls short of striking such a balance," they said.

For example, they said, "limiting the purpose for which small wireless facility fees can be collected by cities and municipalities, as proposed by the Declaratory Ruling and Order, will only stifle local policy innovation, including efforts to bridge the digital divide."

They pointed to what they said was the faulty reasoning underlying the deregulation. "The item assumes the savings that wireless carriers will have from paying lower fees will result in 5G deployment investment in rural areas, yet there is no guarantee that the savings will result in wider deployment," they told the chairman.

Related: AT&T Tells FCC Consumers Will View 5G as Compelling Alternative to Wireline Broadband

They also echoed criticism of the FCC's Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) and its lack of representatives from cities and municipalities.

Commissioner Brendan Carr, who motormanned the item, estimated that the FCC's planned rule revisions "will cut $2 billion in red tape" regulatory costs for the industry.

He also said the FCC has taken into account the needs of state and local agencies, and their complaints that the profusion of small towers whose deployment is being streamlined is a gift to wireless carriers at the expense of local governments.

Gary Arlen contributed to this report.

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.