In an effort to expedite wireless infrastructure deployment, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to streamline its rules for compound expansion at existing tower sites, Inside Towers reports.
The FCC revised its rules in the Report and Order, which say that state and local governments can’t deny certain requests to modify standing wireless structures—if those modifications don’t significantly change a structure’s physical dimensions. The new rules state that deploying or excavating transmission equipment in an area no more than 30 feet beyond current site boundaries wouldn’t disqualify the modification. Commission officials explained that the Report and Order would make it easier to find antennas and other associated equipment on existing infrastructure while simultaneously preserving local government’s ability to manage and protect area land-use interests.
“One would think tower opponents would support efforts to use existing towers instead of building additional ones, which some find unsightly,” FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said. “(Despite previous Commission efforts and even help from Congress) to facilitate co-location, the wireless industry still faced and continues to face ridiculous hurdles.”
O’Reilly noted that this had been an issue for the wireless industry since he first started at the FCC. Tower companies and trade associations cited, “examples of local governments, historic preservation boards, and tribal nations continuously placing unnecessary barriers in the way,” of site upgrades, he said. “Sometimes, there was even a reluctance to share their experiences because of the potential for negative blowback.”
The Wireless Infrastructure Association and CTIA requested the changes, according to Inside Towers.
“We will now allow 30 feet of site expansion consistently across our environmental, historic preservation, and local approval rules,” Commissioner Brendan Carr said. “(Community Wireless Structures founder) Tam (Murray) showed me where he wants to expand his fence to make room for backup power. Trees cover that area and it is notoriously difficult to keep the power on during storms. While a house without power might be a manageable inconvenience for some, a tower without power can cut off wireless service for miles around.
“Tam also needs more space to expand capacity. Wireless providers are adding more equipment to towers to light up the massive amount of spectrum this Commission has brought to market.”
Carr pointed to FirstNet, which he said had contracted for new backup power at cell sites across the country. The California Public Utilities Commission this year mandated 72 hours of backup power.
The FCC vote went along party lines 3-2. Commission Democrats Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks opposed the Report and Order. Rosenworcel said she doesn’t feel a 30-foot change is minor.
“It stretches credulity to suggest that excavation or deployment of up to 30 feet outside the boundaries of a tower compound does not ‘substantially change the physical dimensions’ of that site,” Rosenworcel said. “Thirty feet is five refrigerators laid out one after the other. It’s half the size of a bowling lane.”
Rosenworcel also noted she thinks the decision won’t be good for future relations between the FCC and local communities.
“When we proceed like this, we create genuinely unhelpful friction between state and local interests who have filed en masse in this proceeding to protest how this agency is diminishing their authority,” she said. “By doing so, we reduce the opportunity to foster the kind of partnerships between providers and state and local authorities that can help build smart cities—where connectivity will help improve the quality of life.”
Commissioner Rosenworcel also added that smart cities, “can mean everything from adaptive traffic signals to increased energy efficiency to improved waste management to more data-driven problem solving in real time.” However, she said those goals won’t be reached in the near future if, “this agency keeps reading the statute in a way that leaves state and local authorities aggrieved that they lack a say in what is built in their own backyards.”
Meanwhile, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks noted the decision could potentially entice applicants to avoid local zoning laws by requesting approval for less space than they need, then turnaround and obtain streamlined processing for expansion beyond that area.
Joe Dyton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.