Skip to main content

Senate Digs Into Wireless Deployment

In an almost two-and-a-half-hour hearing, the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday looked at ways to speed the deployment of wireless broadband.

It was a busy day on the wireless front, with the House Communications Subcommittee holding a simultaneous hearing on freeing up government spectrum for wireless broadband.

Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said that he was committed to crafting broadband deployment legislation in this Congress and said he believed it was among "the most important work that can be done by the committee," particularly a pressing need in rural areas for some of the benefits, including for agriculture. He said that without infrastructure, smartphones are just "expensive paperweights."

Sen. Bill Nelson (R-Fla.), ranking member, said everyone was there because of the demand for, and reliance on, wireless broadband. He said the need for additional spectrum always seemed to capture the lion's share of attention, but that it was crucial to look at the infrastructure side of the equation.

He said given concerns about delays and the processes needed for deployment, this is a part of the discussion Congress was going to have to tackle. He pointed out that implicated in that discussion is everything from historic preservation and environmental concerns to  and state and local land use policies and national security. He urged all stakeholders to work together to find ways to balance competing demands.

Gary Resnick, mayor of Wilton Manors, Fla,, chair of the FCC's Intergovernmental Advisory Committee, told the panel that, said that nobody wants wireless deployed more than local communities, which are regulators, providers and consumers of broadband services. "All of us have the same goal," he said, "to insure all Americans have affordable access to advanced broadband services.

But he said the need for additional broadband deployment must be balanced with the critical need for local governments to maintain reasonable control and authority over the placement of these facilities in our communities."

He asserted that the vast majority of deployments are reviewed in a timely manner, and that many communities have already taken steps to streamline their tower citing practices. He disputed the assertion that most local governments are barriers to deployment, saying that is "simply wrong."

Bruce Morrison, VP at Ericsson, who heads up North America infrastructure deployment, said that 40% of mobile traffic travels over an Ericcson network and put in a plug for getting more spectrum, including from broadcasters in the upcoming incentive auction.

Morrison said the key to wireless broadband is access and coverage, and that means both spectrum and new infrastructure, including small cells on light and power poles and building facades.

Jonathan Adelstein, president of PCIA - The Wireless Infrastructure Association, which represents the builders and managers of wireless broadband infrastructure, was asked whether it was easier or harder to deploy small cell infrastructure now than in the past. The FCC has taken a number of steps to ease siting, including putting shot clocks on decisions by local authorities.

Adelstein said that there were still some localities that were resisting, but he also said that PCIA was working with the FCC to facilitate siting of those and distributed antenna systems, and said the FCC has made some progress. He said there was not much problem with inside buildings, but that pole attachments were still an issue. But he also said he thought localities were increasingly "getting it." He said he had to hand it to Resnick." They have these devices too, and they know what it means for communities."

He said those that resist need to be brought up to the level of those who recognize they are essential to their communities.

Adelstein put in a plug for "dig once" legislation being proposed by, among others, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who has long advocated for coordinating broadband plant with other plant being installed in highway construction projects. He said providing conduits for backhaul from cell towers would, as the "dig once" bill would promote, is very important to deployment.

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.