Connecting state and local government leaders

FCC Ditches 2 Federal Reviews in 5G 'Streamlining'

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Michael O'Rielly.

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Michael O'Rielly. Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Only states and localities with their own historic preservation and environmental review processes will be able to mandate them.

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission approved a wireless infrastructure streamlining order 3-2 along party lines on Thursday, exempting small cell deployments from federal historic preservation and environmental reviews—but not state and local ones.

Republican commissioners hailed infrastructure reform as critical to securing $275 billion in wireless provider investment in small cell installations and winning the “race to 5G” ahead of competitors like China.

With National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act requirements removed from the deployment equation, only states and localities with their own review processes can mandate them. And the wireless industry is actively working to preempt such regulations at the state level.

“Today, out of the total cost of deploying small cells, the equipment, and labor and permitting, nearly 30 percent is consumed by our outdated NEPA procedures and threatens to hold us back in the race to 5G or limit the business case to just densely populated or affluent areas. That’s not success,” said Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican. “With today’s order, we can flip the business case for thousands of communities.”

Democratic commissioners argued just the opposite is true and sought to delay the vote to get more input from tribal nations, environmental advocates and local government officials.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, pointed out not a single tribe backed the order and streamlining the installation of 5G networks for the wireless industry wouldn’t automatically guarantee they improve access to underserved communities.

“Not a single comment in this proceeding has suggested that the root of that problem is our historic or environmental review process,” Rosenworcel said. "These communities are hard to serve because they don’t support the investment that requires buildout.”

The FCC will move on to freeing up new spectrum bands for 5G and consideration of Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee recommendations that permitting times be shortened and costs lessened.

Local government officials, a minority on the committee, are concerned they won’t be fairly compensated by wireless providers for access to public rights of way.

“If we want to lead in 5G, we need policies to encourage deep fiber investments, and our wireless facilities will need to be connected to millions of miles of fiber, requiring creative thinking about everything from permitting to securing access to rights of way,” said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican. “We do not do that here.”

Endnote: Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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