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Carriers clamor for FCC oversight of state- and city-level small cell fees

The nation’s wireless carriers continue to petition the FCC to issue guidelines to states and cities about how much they should charge for small cell deployments and other network upgrades.

“Many municipalities unfortunately continue to demand exorbitant fees for access to rights-of-way and structures within them, including, for example, attachment fees that exceed $4,000 per year,” Verizon wrote in a recent filing. “Some cities, where providers may have a competitive necessity to offer service, continue to use their considerable leverage to seek fees that far exceed their costs.”

Verizon continued: “A number of Florida cities have imposed moratoria on small cell applications, and other cities’ refusal to accept or process applications results in de facto moratoria. A policy that ensures that fees are reasonable and cost-based and that localities act quickly on applications will best further the Commission’s goals of ensuring fast and far-reaching deployment of advanced wireless services.”

Verizon isn’t alone in urging the FCC to step into their local problems. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all made similar filings.

“We further urged the Commission to ensure that fees charged by state and local governments are cost-based, nondiscriminatory, and publicly available,” T-Mobile noted in its own filing.

In its filing, Sprint offered a suggestion for the fees that the FCC should require states and cities to charge for access to city-owned infrastructure:​

Sprint argued that those prices largely dovetail with the fees laid out in legislation now passed in 20 different states aimed at reducing the fees that carriers pay for small cell deployments, and reducing the amount of time it takes for small cells to be deployed. Indeed, just last week the Wireless Infrastructure Association pointed out that Hawaii Gov. David Ige recently signed into law legislation that “establishes a process to upgrade and support next-generation wireless broadband infrastructure throughout the State.”

Already, some FCC commissioners appear to be in lockstep with the wireless industry on the topic. For example, Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said in May that the FCC next plans to look at city and state rules that are hindering the rollout of small cells. He said the agency would move against “bad actors”: cities and states that are seeking to charge wireless operators unreasonable fees to deploy small cells or are moving too slowly on the topic. “We’ve tried the nice approach,” O’Rielly said at the time. Now, “we’ll have to take the aggressive route, and I’m completely comfortable in doing so.”

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