June 27, 2017 —
President Donald J. Trump has nominated Brendan Carr to be an FCC Commissioner. Carr currently serves as General Counsel of the agency and before that he was an advisor to then-Commissioner Agit Pai. Before joining the Commission, he was an attorney with Wiley Rein working in the telecom, litigation, and appellate practices.
FCC Chairman Pai congratulated Carr, saying he has a “distinguished record of public service” and his “expertise on wireless policy and public safety will be a tremendous asset” to the Fess.” Carr’s nomination also was applauded by FCC Comm. Michael O’Rielly who said he would help to “reduce senseless regulations and install sound policymaking.” FCC Comm. Mignon Clyburn congratulated Carr, as well, saying he is “well respected on both sides of the aisle” and has a “deep knowledge” of the legal and policy issues.
Carr’s nomination follows the re-nomination of Jessica Rosenworcel. Both must now be approved by the U.S. Senate. If both get the thumbs up, the FCC will be at its full complement of five commissioners.
June 22, 2017 —
At the Wireless Infrastructure Show (WIS) in Orlando last month, Jonathan Adelstein said he places a high priority on fixing legislation that calls for the marking of many rural telecommunications towers as aviation hazards. Adelstein heads the Wireless Industry Association (WIA), a membership organization that owns WIS.
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who spoke at WIS as well, cited research indicating it could cost as much as $750 million to paint the many thousands of towers affected by the legislation, with repainting every seven years or so. The legislation addresses the hazard to pilots of aircraft used for crop dusting posed by temporary meteorological testing towers, but that perhaps inadvertently applies to telecom towers, too.
Although no one wants to put pilots at risk, another factor involved is the risk placed upon workers who would have to climb the towers to paint them.
O’Rielly said, “It is without question that there have been accidents involving crop dusters. But, it doesn’t appear that communications towers are to blame one iota.”
The commissioner also pointed to a possible unintended consequence that the added cost of painting towers could discourage broadband network construction in rural areas, limiting rural economic development and stymieing smart agriculture.
At the table where I sat, listening to the commissioner, two managers with one of the three public tower companies nodded their heads in agreement when O’Rielly said the escalating costs of the tribal approval process for towers represents a problem the FCC should address.
“One provider reports that, in 2011, they were paying an average of $439 in tribal review fees per site, and now they pay on average $6,754,” O’Rielly said. “That’s almost a 1,500 percent increase. And, more tribes have been expressing interest. For instance, 19 tribes responded to an application to add an antenna to a building in Cleveland and 39 tribes, of which 27 demanded fees, wanted to review sites in suburban Chicago. This is not economically sustainable. Further, tribes are receiving the payments, but then never respond as to whether there is actual concern, causing endless delays.”
I asked the commissioner how much power the FCC has to reduce tribal approval costs. He said the FCC has some authority and has a role to play. He said the FCC also has an obligation to inform Congress of the need for changes to the statute. O’Rielly said he has testified before Congress about it.
Relief may not come soon, but we hope that one day it will come.
June 15, 2017 —
Previously, she was the Senior Communications Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, working for Senator Jay Rockefeller IV from 2009 to 2011, and Senator Daniel K. Inouye from 2007 to 2008. Before that, she served at the Commission in a variety of legal positions from 1999 to 2007.
Rosenworcel has been the subject of a zig zag by the Trump Administration. She was re-nominated originally by President Obama toward the end of his term, but President Trump withdrew the nomination in March. Now, apparently, she is back on track.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai congratulated Rosenworcel on her nomination to return to the Commission. “She has a distinguished record of public service, including the four-and-a-half years we worked together at this agency, and I look forward to working with her once again to advance the public interest,” he said in a prepared statement.
Rosenworcel is a fellow supporter of net neutrality with Comm. Mignon Clyburn, who called her a “tireless advocate for bridging the homework gap,” a “leader in the effort” to modernize 9-1-1 call centers, and a “champion” for increasing access to unlicensed spectrum.
May 30, 2017
On the heels of the FCC’s adoption of the “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposed rulemaking, which proposes to end utility-style regulation of the internet, FCC Comm. Mignon Clyburn said she will work to continue Title II regulation of the internet, known as net neutrality, and ensure that communities can continue to rely on the internet as the “preeminent engine of innovation and opportunities.”
On the third day of the Wireless Infrastructure Conference, May 24, in Orlando, Florida, Clyburn spoke out against the so-called fast lanes reserved for those willing to pay more and preferences for those with business relationships with an internet service provider, which many say will be the result of killing net neutrality.
“And the 2015 Open Internet Order reflects a long-standing commitment shared by millions of Americans to protect a platform that inspires innovation and entrepreneurship, fosters freedom of speech and expression, and stimulates incentives for investment,” she said.
Clyburn passionately preached about the importance of broadband internet access to communities so that children can do homework, the unemployed can apply for jobs, the sick can obtain health care, and entrepreneurs can drive the economy.
“So as far as I am concerned – broadband is where we must all start,” she said. “To have an educated, competitive workforce in this century and beyond, we must ensure that everyone in our communities truly has access to broadband service, for all of the infrastructure builds in the world will not enable access if the service is not affordable.”
Clyburn said she met a man during a visit to skid row in Los Angeles who told here if he did not have an email address, he would have no address at all.
“That is just one example of how important connectivity is and how important it is for that person to be connected to the goods and services that will improve their life,” she said. “I think we all benefit when there is an open platform.”
Clyburn rejected the viewpoint that the internet would be better off without any regulation.
“What we have been the beneficiaries of in terms of this enabling platform did not happen by accident. It happened because there was a framework of rules that were codified,” she said. “People keep forgetting that all these things that enabled you to connect came about because there were clear rules of the road.”
As to what will happen next, Clyburn said she hopes “cooler heads” will prevail, but she will wait to see the record that is created by comments in the proceeding (FCC-17-60). There also could be a legislative solution that could restore federal regulation to the internet, she said.
May 24, 2017
While FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly expressed frustration at the pace of change at the Commission in during his tenure, he expressed optimism that under a new chairman the wireless industry will see some action on longstanding issues in his afternoon keynote address during the first day of the 2017 Wireless Infrastructure Show in Orlando, Florida.
“It’s been just over two years since my last visit with you all and sadly the overall picture of issues of importance hasn’t changed all that much,” O’Rielly said. “A few things have changed in this time: a new administration, a new chairman, and a refreshing new outlook on communications policy.”
O’Rielly expressed his unhappiness that the regulatory uncertainty has not been resolved surrounding “Twilight Towers,” which are towers built between 2001 and 2005 that did not go through the National Historic Preservation Act’s Section 106 review and cannot accept collocations. The issue affects about 4,300 twilight towers where close to 6,500 antenna collocations have been prohibited, according to O’Rielly.
However, there is hope. The Commission did formally seek comment last month on resolving the issue of twilight towers, which includes assurance that no enforcement action will be taken against legitimate twilight towers.
Another area where O’Rielly has experienced frustration is tower marking. While the FCC successfully eliminated regulatory burdens in tower marking in 2014, the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 mandates that all towers ranging between 50 to 200 feet meet painting and lighting requirements.
The law potentially affects 25,000 communications towers and another 25,000 broadcast towers. the bill would cost the industry $750 million every five to seven years. Increased costs for building towers will cause rural areas to miss out on future 5G and IoT deployments.
“While no one disputes the desire to protect human life for those aviators whizzing planes inches from the ground, carrying out the burden as written will be an extremely expensive undertaking due to the cost of the specialized labor that climbs these towers,” O’Rielly said.
The fix according to O’Rielly is pass a provision clarifying that communications towers are exempt.
Tower Crews and the Repack
O’Rielly acknowledged the high demand for tower crews that is being created by the relocation of 987 TV stations as part of the broadcast spectrum incentive auction repack, which is occurring on top of the buildout of AWS-3 and 600 MHz spectrum and general network densification. And he noted the concerns that the tower industry may miss the 39-month deadline repack.
“While some are rightfully concerned about the ability to meet the current deadlines, I think it is not irrational that we wait to see how the first stages go before jumping to any premature conclusions, O’Rielly said. “If it looks like we cannot meet the 39-month timeframe, at some point, we can reassess. In the meantime, I suggest that everyone should take a deep breath as we head down the repack path together.
O’Rielly said one of the siting issues he hears about the most is access to the public rights of way where the industry is experiencing excessive delays when filing siting applications, explicit moratoria and de facto moratoria.
“These are not acceptable responses to new small cell technologies that need to be deployed for the United States to maintain its position as the leader in wireless communications,” he said. “The Commission should clarify that such behavior is not consistent with the Communications Act, which clearly reads that state and local regulations may not ‘have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service.’”
O’Rielly added that the “excessive” fees being charged for use of the rights of way are not “fair and reasonable” compensation. “There needs to be a declaration that fees similar to those imposed on macro towers are not appropriate or sustainable for small cell networks,” he said.
Tribal Review Process
Another sticking point for antenna siting is the dramatically increasing tribal approval fees, which have soared from an average of $439 per site in 2011 up to on average $6,754, according to one carrier, or a 1,500 percent increase. “This is not economically sustainable,” O’Rielly said. “Further, tribes are receiving the payments, but then never respond as to whether there is actual concern, causing endless delays.”