To speed deployment of wireless broadband to the nation’s communities, the FCC created a Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) charged with drafting model codes to govern the relationship between wireless carriers and states and local jurisdictions. However, what may be a “model” for carriers looking to speed broadband deployment and maximize profits is not being viewed favorably by local jurisdictions seeking to protect land use from unsightly and overzealous deployment and to receive a fair share of the revenue generated from wireless carriers’ use of local infrastructure.
5G Deployments Will Benefit from Access to Public Infrastructure. Fifth generation wireless network technology – or 5G as it is more commonly known – is a dynamic broadband technology having substantial promise and potential. Wireless speeds and lower latency rates for wireless communications will improve exponentially, leading to innovation and uses that could include augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things, smart homes, smart cities and autonomous vehicles.
For this technology to blossom two things are necessary – sufficient spectrum and available infrastructure. It is anticipated that the full implementation of 5G calls for spectrum having the super-wide bandwidth that, in turn, can only be transmitted over very short distances, resulting in the need for hundreds of thousands more cells than currently exist. These so-called “small cells” are low-powered base stations that cover much smaller areas than the typical macrocell. Whereas macrocell deployments are typically 70-300 feet in height, small cell transmitters are mounted 30-60 feet above ground, having coverage areas measured in meters, not miles.
The FCC is intent on ensuring that sufficient spectrum is available to meet the 5G needs of the wireless carriers, initiating multiple spectrum rulemakings and planning for auctions that will be conducted during the next several years. The Commission also intends to play a major part in facilitating the availability of infrastructure.
Because of the massive number of cells that will be required for 5G, local community infrastructure including traffic lights, lamp posts and similar structures are needed for a successful broadband deployment. In some residential neighborhoods, new small cells may need to be placed in public rights-of-way in front of homes and apartment complexes. This essential requirement is causing significant debate on the respective needs of carriers and communities – and much activity at the federal, state and local levels.
BDAC’s Work is Wrapping Up. With the hope of developing a framework for broadband deployment on a nationwide basis, the FCC created the BDAC to provide recommendations on how best to accelerate the deployment of broadband. As part of its mission, the BDAC is working on a Model Broadband Code for Municipalities and a Model Broadband Code for States. It hopes to finish its deliberations by the end of this month and then propose the codes to the FCC for consideration as nationwide “model” codes.
BDAC’s one-sided tilt favoring wireless carriers proved too much for some local jurisdictions. San Jose Mayor, Sam Liccardo, was initially vice chair of the BDAC’s municipal model code committee. He felt that this working group, heavily weighted with carrier representatives, was working to promote the interests of carriers and not the public. He resigned from the BDAC in January of this year saying that “after nine months of deliberation, negotiation, and discussion, we’ve made no progress toward a single proposal that will actually further the goal of equitable broadband deployment.” The Chief Technology Officer of New York City, the nation’s largest city, withdrew from the BDAC for similar reasons.
A More Balanced Approach Emerges. Six months after Mayor Liccardo’s departure from the BDAC, the City of San Jose reached small cell agreements with three wireless carriers including, AT&T and Verizon. These agreements contain numerous municipally-friendly provisions. For example, each carrier will be required to comply with the City’s public noticing process before installing a small cell on any of the City’s light poles. In addition, each small cell will have to meet the City’s established design standards, which restrict the size and placement of each installation. Recurring fees to place small cells on city structures are market-based and range up to a rate of $2,500 per site – in stark contrast to “cost-based” rates of less than $50 proposed in other jurisdictions.
As a strong advocate of a collaborative approach to broadband deployment, FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel was so impressed that she posted San Jose’s agreements on the FCC’s website, referring to them as “model” agreements. Commissioner Rosenworcel urges similar carrier-local government cooperation across the country based on the framework of these agreements.
Restrictive State Laws Already in Place. Not all jurisdictions will have the opportunity to apply the San Jose model for the benefit of their residents. Restrictive state laws prevail in many jurisdictions. The wireless industry has been successful in its lobbying efforts to get state legislatures to pass broadband legislation favorable to the industry. These laws restrict the ability of local jurisdictions to protect land use from potential overreaching by wireless carriers or to negotiate market-based rates for carrier access to rights-of-way and local infrastructure.
At last count, some 20 states had adopted such legislation. Common elements of these statewide preemption laws include capped fees for right-of-way use, expedited timelines for processing infrastructure applications, limited scope for local governments to deny requests, presumed application approvals, and limited (or prohibited) zoning authority over attachment to new poles.
Last year, Governor Jerry Brown of California vetoed similar broadband legislation. This decision was instrumental in positioning San Jose to enter into market-based agreements enabling broadband deployment for the benefit of both the wireless industry and the local community. A true win-win situation.
© 2018 Keller and Heckman LLP
This article originally ran on natlawreview.com.