The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved regulations to speed the deployment of 5G broadband phone service.
The FCC’s action reconciles conflicting interpretations of federal telecommunications law by various federal courts and sets standards local governments must meet in considering applications by telecommunications companies to build the local infrastructure for 5G service. Five-gigahertz (5G) is a higher broadband frequency that can carry data faster and uses many unobtrusive small-cell antennas rather than tall towers.
The agency’s ruling and order document was released on September 27, 2018 and went into effect immediately.
‘Inhibiting the Buildout’
Over the next few years, telecommunications companies will install some 800,000 5G small-cell antennas on existing light and electricity poles in utility rights-of-way, on new signal towers, and attached to buildings.
Twenty states have adopted rules governing the approval of applications by municipalities to lease utility easements. The Commission’s order explains, “we have heard from a number of local officials that the excessive fees or other costs associated with deploying small scale wireless infrastructure in large or otherwise ‘must serve’ cities are materially inhibiting the buildout of wireless services in their own communities.”
For example, “AT&T identified an instance in which it took a locality in California 800 days to process an application,” FCC reports.
The new rules allow 60 days for local governments to review each application for attachment of a small wireless facility using an existing structure and 90 days to review an application to build a new structure.
The rules also require state and local governments to limit fees to “reasonable costs” for processing applications and managing rights-of-way.
Unleashing Jobs and Money
The FCC projects wireless service providers will invest an estimated $275 billion over the next decade in next-generation wireless infrastructure deployment, which should generate three million new jobs and boost U.S. gross domestic product by half a trillion dollars.
“5G can enable increased competition for a range of services—including broadband—support new healthcare and Internet of Things applications, speed the transition to life-saving connected car technologies, and create jobs,” the FCC’s report states.
“Moving quickly to enable this transition is important, as a new report forecasts that speeding 5G infrastructure deployment by even one year would unleash an additional $100 billion to the U.S. economy,” the report states.
States, Cities Challenging Rule
The National Governors Association, National League of Cities, National Conference of State Legislatures, and some other groups oppose the FCC’s new rule. More than 20 cities and municipalities are challenging the FCC’s action in federal courts for preempting local regulations and limiting government fees.
The FCC’s action is aimed at removing unreasonable restrictions in the 30 states that have been slow to act on 5G broadband, says Bartlett D. Cleland, a research fellow with the Institute for Policy Innovation.
“Before the FCC action, 20 states had passed ‘small cell’ legislation to require reasonable fees for the application to place small cells, reasonable ongoing fees to rent the right of way from the communities, and a guarantee of timely decision-making on whether the applications are approved so that infrastructure building can proceed,” Cleland said. “But in those states and localities where they are slowing the expansion of broadband for their own gains, the FCC moved to remove those artificial barriers to infrastructure investment and the national broadband network.”
‘Preserves State Legislation’
The FCC’s action recognizes states’ authority, says Cleland.
“The structure of the FCC provision preserves state legislation in states where they are actually moving forward on deployment,” said Cleland. “The FCC has learned from those states—those states have been the laboratory of democracy, the laboratories of policy innovation—and has crafted its proposal accordingly.
“Ultimately, the intent is to give a fair shot to smaller and medium communities to gain broadband advantages even while large communities continue to benefit as the country moves along a clear path for the national adoption of 5G,” Cleland said. “Such a move is of great value to the nation.”
Joe Barnett ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.
Federal Communications Commission, “Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order: Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment,” September 27, 2018:
Bartlett Cleland, “FCC, Please Speed the Deployment of Broadband,” The Heartland Institute, September 27, 2018: