Small Cell Dereg Gets Big D.C. Hand

Republican FCC commissioner Brendan Carr was getting plenty of industry warm fuzzies Wednesday (Feb. 28) for a proposal, that clearly has chair Ajit Pai's backing, to promote 5G wireless broadband buildouts by exempting most 5G facilities from environmental and historic review processes and putting a shot clock and restrictions on those that still need such reviews.

Related: FCC Proposing to Exempt 5G Facilities From Historic, Environmental Reviews

The proposal is being voted at the FCC's March 22 public meeting, so Pai is putting it on the agenda. But Carr got to take the lead with the annoucement. Pai has been willing to share the deregulatory load among his fellow commissioners, including charging commissioner Michael O'Reilly with a review of the children's TV carriage mandates.

The 5G proposal already has the vote of one former FCC commissioner -- Meredith Attwell Baker, president of CTIA, which represents the wireless companies benefitting more from the deregulatory move.

“Commissioner Carr is exactly right that modernizing outdated infrastructure rules is key to the United States winning the global race to 5G," said Baker. "His proposals would address outdated federal laws that needlessly delay wireless deployments and add millions in costs, and we urge the FCC to support this common sense approach.”

Ditto the Information & Technology Association (ITIF).

"Commissioner Carr’s announcement that the FCC will make targeted changes to environmental and historic review procedures is a necessary update to arcane rules that could stymie deployment of next-generation wireless technology," the ITIF said. "These balanced changes are the first step in updating regulations for the 5G era. We look forward to what else the FCC has in store to ensure the United States is well positioned to develop these key communications platforms."

Related: FCC Promotes Wireless Buildouts

AT&T EVP Joan Marsh added her voice to the chorus.

“Commissioner Carr has done a tremendous job leading the charge to address the outdated, unnecessary and costly regulations that do nothing but stand in the way of wireless broadband deployment," she said. "The environmental and historic preservation rules the commission seeks to modernize were designed for large cell towers, not the small cells of today that play a huge role in our ability to increase mobile speeds and performance for our customers. We look forward to seeing the full draft of the order when it is released tomorrow, but we are greatly encouraged by Commissioner Carr’s remarks this morning and the direction the FCC is taking in this proceeding.”

Competitive Carriers Association president Steven K. Berry said: “Commissioner Carr’s well thought-out plan takes specific steps to accelerate broadband deployment, which will be especially beneficial to unserved and underserved areas and will help the U.S. remain a leader in the race to 5G. Excluding small wireless facilities from environmental and historic review procedures that were designed for large, macrocell deployments; clarifying the Section 106 Tribal consultation process including fees and timelines; and adopting a shot clock for EA processing will significantly improve the current regulatory maze. Commissioner Carr has identified an opportunity to promote more efficient broadband deployment, developed a plan, and demonstrated leadership to execute on this plan. I strongly encourage the full Commission to vote in favor of his plan.”

The Internet Innovation Alliance welcomed the proposal: "By eliminating unnecessary regulatory delays and barriers that apply only to wireless deployments, the FCC will take a major step towards a uniform policy that will accelerate advanced broadband deployments of all types. Today’s small cells are simply not the cell towers of past generations of deployments, and updating these regulations is both appropriate and necessary. Small cells will form the backbone of the future national 5G network; in the meantime, these deployments will increase capacity for America’s consumers and businesses in areas that badly need it. We thank Commissioner Carr for his work on this issue and look forward to the vote by the full Commission.”

Telecommunications Industry Association SVP Cinnamon Rogers said: "5G networks operating in higher frequency bands will rely significantly on deployments of small cells that are no larger than a pizza box, not just traditional macrocell towers. Small cells are different, and the FCC’s recognition of that fact will help avoid massive and unnecessary regulatory obstacles and permitting costs that threaten U.S. leadership in the race to 5G."

“Today’s announcement from Commissioner Carr that the FCC will move to streamline and modernize key infrastructure rules is a win for mobile innovation and investment," said Mobile Future. "Wireless infrastructure technology is advancing by leaps and bounds and if regulations don’t catch up, we risk delaying the benefits of 5G for the American economy. Mobile Future looks forward to working with the entire Commission and policymakers at all levels to push forward the reforms we need to be 5G ready.”

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.