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FCC Prepares to Push Forward With Streamlining 5G Deployment

A Federal Communications Commission member announced a proposed order Tuesday that would limit the fees municipalities can charge providers to deploy fifth-generation wireless infrastructure, as well as shorten application review periods.

Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican, highlighted his plan in a speech before the Indiana Senate—Indianapolis having recently been selected by Verizon to pilot 5G residential service later this year.

Carr said his plan would save providers $2 billion in unnecessary fees and streamline small cell deployments in both cities and underserved rural and suburban communities of all sizes. But an advocate for local government voiced concerns about the as-yet-unreleased order.

“I understand he is trying to offer a compromise to local government, but unfortunately it is just too much federal overreach,” Angelina Panettieri, principal associate for technology and communications at the National League of Cities, told Route Fifty.

While Carr said the order rejects a “deemed granted” approach to application reviews—whereby deployments are automatically approved if the overseeing jurisdiction fails to complete its evaluation within a set timeframe—the proposed timeframes he outlined are still expedited.

Like the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate, Carr’s plan would provide 60 days to approve small cells being attached to existing structures and 90 days for entirely new poles.

“Success can only be measured when all Americans, no matter where they live, have a fair shot at fast, affordable broadband. So we at the FCC have studied the success of your efforts in this statehouse and the rest of the states that have enacted small cell bills,” Carr said. “We learned how removing unnecessary regulatory barriers to deploying small cells can directly impact investment, jobs, education, and families.”

Most local government application fees are already connected to the cost of reviewing them, Panettieri said, but Carr’s order will propose annual rent ceilings on recurring charges for placing wireless facilities on public property. The order would not preempt states with extremely low rent limits, such as the one imposed by Arizona in its state small cell legislation.

“Cities and states could be looking at the worst of all worlds,” Panettieri said.

Local government has a harder time planning when it can’t act as the landlord of public property available for private industry’s profitable use, which could hurt broadband deployment long term, Panettieri added.

Indiana passed small cell legislation in 2017, paving the way for more than 1,000 such devices in 30 communities across the state. The legislation is one of about 20 state laws informing Carr’s order and limits application fees to $100 per small cell facility and reviews to 60 days.

“Here in Indiana, we believe in minimizing burdensome regulations in order to pave the way for investments of all kinds in our local communities and across the state,” said Indiana State Sen. Jim Merritt, a Republican who authored the legislation, in a statement. “We made common-sense changes in our state law to encourage wireless investment, and those efforts are paying off in a tremendous way.”

The FCC will vote on Carr’s order at its Sept. 25 meeting, before its Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee has a chance to finalize a model code in October for states looking to craft legislation of their own.

Panettieri said she expects the draft order to be released Wednesday and called a vote on it “premature,” after the state model code “fell apart” at the BDAC’s summer meeting.

“I think they’re leaving some potential feedback on the table,” she said. “My guess is they just ran out of time and patience for the process to play out.”

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