FCC Approves New Rule To Limit Local Authority In 5G Rollout

Although the Federal Communications Commission moved forward Wednesday with an order curtailing local governments’ authority to regulate the rollout of fifth-generation wireless, jurisdictions are now looking at months of uncertainty over when the new rules will be implemented.

The rule sets strict approval times for governments to consider permits and caps the fees jurisdictions can charge providers.

All major state and local organizations opposed the measure, despite its anticipated approval, and are expected to petition the FCC for reconsideration—possibly followed by lawsuits, said Angelina Panettieri, principal associate for technology and communications at the National League of Cities.

“We didn’t see a lot of advocates for local government on the dais today,” Panettieri told Route Fifty. “This order is going to increase the amount of litigation around small cell proposals.”

Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican, introduced the rule earlier this month promising providers would save $2 billion on unnecessary fees while speeding up the release of the much-faster 5G service to cities and underserved rural and suburban communities.

Carr and other proponents have argued that smoothing the regulatory path for 5G will help bring broadband internet service to places that currently don’t have access. And they have emphasized that the U.S. is currently in a battle with foreign competitors to move on 5G.

“We need a concrete plan to close the gap with China and win the race to 5G,” Carr said prior to the vote. “We take this seriously at the FCC, and we are getting the government out of the way so that the private sector can invest and compete.”

Critics have been skeptical, saying that instead cities should be allowed to use their clout to expand infrastructure to neighborhoods where the market hasn’t gone.

The measure, approved 3-1 along party lines, gives jurisdictions 60 days to approve small cells—radio equipment and antennas inside metal boxes—if they are being attached to existing poles. Governments can take 90 days for entirely new poles.

Commissioners said localities will be granted leeway to update their procedures, but it is unclear whether that means an extension or a stay on the rule’s effective date—it generally takes a week to several mont