FCC Com. Michael O’Rielly blasted efforts to impede the rollout of small cells, such as the use of Florida municipalities’ use of moratoria, during a meeting of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) on Friday, in Washington, DC.
O’Rielly referenced an FCC filing by UNITI Group that identified 44 moratoria in the state of Florida on small cell deployments in the public rights of way, saying they are “unbelievable” and “cannot be allowed to stand.”
“The barriers being imposed are not caused by a failure to collaborate, but a failure to heed to current law and a resistance to allow citizens access to modern communications unless certain localities impose their will or extract bounties from providers,” O’Rielly said.
O’Rielly said problem of local governments setting up regulatory environments that are hostile to small cells is getting worse.
“The barriers preventing providers from bringing fixed and wireless broadband throughout our nation have increased despite the existence of this committee,” he said in prepared remarks.
Supportive small cell legislation being passed in the states doesn’t seem to be helping much, either. Florida’s State legislature passed The Infrastructure Deployment Act, which makes it unlawful for localities to prohibit small cells. However, a clause that allows them to adopt ordinances concerning “objective design standards,” has led to unnecessary and illegal moratoria, according to an ex parte presentation filed with the FCC by UNITI Group.
“Despite federal law to the contrary, many localities have implemented moratoria, in name or in fact, on installing small cells in the public rights-of-way,” UNITI said. “Even when local officials – like county commissioners, city councils, staff, and attorneys – are provided copies of relevant federal rulings prohibiting moratoria, these parties feign ignorance or express their intention to violate federal law.”
O’Rielly also pointed the finger at the City of San Jose, whose mayor Sam Liccardo is on the BDAC.
“[According to] the recent paper by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the mayor’s team is seeking to extract high rents and fees for merely trying to attach small cells to utility poles,” O’Rielly said.
O’Rielly has learned of an effort by East Coast cities to coordinate the fees and other requirements that are imposed on small cells.
“The ideas being bandied about were head scratching: from neutral platform requirements to mandating sensor attachments to every small cell,” he said. “There seems to be no limit to the creativity of those imposing barriers to deployment.”
The FCC will vote on a proceeding next month to make more millimeter wave (mmW) spectrum above 24 GHz available for 5G and IoT. In particular, an additional 1700 megahertz of spectrum would be freed up in the 24.25-24.45 and 24.75-25.25 GHz band (24 GHz band) and the 47.2-48.2 GHz band.
The proceeding brings the total amount of mmW spectrum available for next generation wireless up to 13 gigahertz, when added to the spectrum already made available for flexible wireless use in the 27.5-28.35 GHz (28 GHz), 37-38.6 GHz (37 GHz), 38.6-40 GHz (39 GHz band), and 64-71 GHz bands.
“In recent years, technological advances have increased our ability to harness mmW technology for fixed and mobile wireless communications in high band spectrum, while demand for connected products and services continues to grow,” the FCC said. “This item would take further action to facilitate the development of advanced wireless services and provide greater and more flexible access in spectrum bands above 24 GHz.”
The commission will continue to evaluate additional mmW bands and, in a separate proceeding, it will look at bands above 95 GHz.
Streamlined infrastructure rules can help wireless companies make a business case to deploy their systems, especially in rural communities, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said at the Competitive Carriers Association’s annual convention last week in Fort Worth.
“I understand how important infrastructure reform is going to be in terms of maintaining the United States’ leadership in wireless and ensuring that we see the ubiquitous deployment of advanced wireless networks,” Carr said in prepared remarks.
Chairman Pai has asked Carr to take the lead on the agency’s wireless infrastructure efforts. Next month, the FCC will vote on an order to eliminate the requirement for historic preservation review when utility poles are replaced with similar poles that can wireless equipment.
“As a practical matter, this order could go a long way in speeding the regulatory review process as providers seek to update and densify their networks for 5G,” Carr said.
Carr expressed confidence that the Order and others like it will positively impact the deployment of wireless in rural areas.
“[Streamlining] could make it economical for the private sector to deploy 5G to nearly 15 million more homes than under the existing and more burdensome regime,” he said. “The lion’s share of those would be in less densely populated areas.”
Carr was sworn in as the fifth commissioner on Aug. 11 after being unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
It is an exciting and challenging time to be part of the wireless industry. There is an unprecedented consumer demand for wireless products and services, especially data. Consider the FCC’s latest Mobile Competition Report that highlights industry developments: There are almost 400 million connections, a healthy 5 percent increase from 2015, and data use has soared to 13.7 trillion megabytes a 42 percent increase from the prior year and a whopping 238 percent increase from just two years ago. On an individual basis, monthly consumer data use is up 39 percent since 2015, and over 50 percent of the American public has gone completely wireless.
With all this good news comes the realization that the wireless industry is under enormous competitive pressures. The same FCC data shows consumer prices, by one measurement, have fallen by 7 percent in one year’s time, and the cost of a megabyte, according to another source, has dropped from $1.37 to less than hałf a cent over the last decade. To put that in perspective, annual inflation has increased in the last five years by 4.5 percent, while wireless inflation has dropped by 8 percent. At the same time, network investment and overall speeds have increased substantially. By all accounts, wireless industry skeptics have been forced to acknowledge these positive developments for consumers, even if they loathe to utter the words “effectively competitive.” But, I dare you to find another communications industry segment — or commercial segment for that matter — that has produced so many consumer benefits while experiencing price reductions and fierce competition over the last many years.
I’m sure that those who love to regulate will try to make the weak case that the status of the wireless industry occurred because of — and not despite — the FCC’s regulations, particularly our net neutrality burdens. Beyond being desperate to validate their myopic decision, this argument completely ignores the counterfactual, or what would have occurred absent such burdens. The reality is that had the FCC rejected the liberal mantra of net neutrality, the entire wireless picture could have been even better.
The FCC is well aware that industry is facing numerous challenges to install the hundreds of thousands of new wireless towers and antennas that are going to be needed to meet the insatiable demand for mobile services and new wireless technologies, such as 5G. To effectuate this, these towers and antennas must be installed throughout American communities, which to date has generated improper and unacceptable behavior by some state, local or tribal governments.
In particular, the FCC’s extensive record demonstrates that industry is experiencing excessive delays and moratoria when filing siting applications for access to locality rights of way. In fact, the record is replete with reports of long pre-application processes before an application can be filed or is deemed complete and of applications going through two years or more of review before a decision is actually made. For instance, one company reports that, in Florida alone, 26 jurisdictions have installed moratoria. Although most of these moratoria last for more than 180 days, in the case of at least two localities the moratoria extended more than two years. Permitting applications are being rejected for indefensible reasons, such as aesthetics, radio-frequency concerns or because localities don’t agree with the proposed type or placement of equipment.
Finally, providers are being forced to pay astronomical fees for approvals, which is unsustainable when thousands of small cells, generally the size of bread boxes, will need to be deployed. Providers report that they are paying not only large one-time application fees, but also franchise, use, contractor and even annual fees. For instance, we have seen some localities charge as much as $5,000 or $10,000 per site to review antenna structure applications and agreements. Some localities charge for the consultants reviewing siting applications, which can be $8,500 per pole, with additional inspection fees after installation. Some also charge recurring yearly fees of $6,000 per pole, while others take a percentage of gross revenues.
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. Sadly, the real loser in all of this is the consumer, who must wait longer for access to new technologies, such as the internet of things. The FCC has three open proceedings about facilitating infrastructure installations, and the chairman has also instituted the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee to examine and resolve these types of issues. If this situation is not resolved quickly and satisfactorily, the FCC must be willing to use its preemption authority against those governmental entities.
9-1-1 Fee Diversion
The enormous successes of the wireless industry, not just over the last couple of years but the last many decades, has been greeted with attempts by creative state, local and tribal governments to target this success to fill their own coffers. Nowhere is this more apparent than the diversion of 9-1-1 fees by state governments. In my opinion, it is unconscionable that some states divert fees collected for legitimate and needed 9-1-1 communications capabilities to unrelated purposes, threatening the public’s safety for short-term budgetary relief. In fact, I think we should call this practice what it really is: stealing. State governments are stealing their citizens’ hard-earned incomes under the premise that they’re being used for public safety officials.
I certainly understand why some see this as a vexing problem to solve because it intertwines tax policy, jurisdictional lines, federalism, public safety, and consumers. However, it is precisely these types of issues that we expect our policymakers in government to address. Accordingly, not too long ago, I put forward three non-mutually exclusive ideas for the FCC to increase the pressure and force states to end this practice: 1) The FCC retains the right to bar diverting states from imposing 9-1-1 fees on interstate services, meaning a good percentage of wireless services, landline voice services and all VoIP services, at least in my opinion, would be off limits for such state coffers; 2) as it has done in other areas, the FCC can prevent communications providers from including misrepresentations or inaccurate information in requisite consumer bills, thus we could effectively prevent providers from collecting such funds or require them to remit the funds to diverting states; and 3) the FCC can and should exclude any person representing a diverting state from participating on an FCC advisory committee.
In addition to FCC options, Congress has full ability to correct diverting states’ practices either by directly applying existing law or by exerting necessary leverage via its extensive grants and funding regimes.
Unified Emergency Number
If you travel the Northeast corridor via car, you will see signs for multiple wireless numbers to dial for numerous critical situations, including aggressive driving and DUIs. Pound 77 in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey; Star 47 in North Carolina; Star 77 in Massachusetts; and Star 11 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. There’s also Star 847 in Tennessee, Pound 4357 in Wyoming, Star 55 in Oklahoma and Star 482 for parts of Kansas, just to give some examples. My point is that, depending on where a person physically is at the moment, the mobile telephone number to report critical situations may be different.
This raises a host of questions. Why do we force the American public to remember these different numbers or read a roadside sign while driving along the highway? Are these numbers being used effectively to shift some vital mobile emergency traffic away from the 9-1-1 calling centers? Would a unified number be beneficial to wireless consumers, public safety officials and even wireless providers? If so, what prevents the development and deployment of a unified number?
To some degree, these are rhetorical questions in my opinion, or I wouldn’t be raising this matter. We used to have a similar issue with regard to the larger public safety emergency numbers until Congress and the emergency communications community agreed to set 9-1-1 as the official emergency number. Why wouldn’t the same arguments that led to that decision apply here? The simple answer is that they should. We should have a unified wireless number for non-9-1-1 calls.
Edited for length and style, this article condenses remarks made by FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly at the New Jersey Wireless Association Deployment Summit on Oct. 18. You can download the transcript at www.fcc.gov/document/comm-orielly-remarks-new-jersey-wireless-association.
Don Bishop is Executive Editor and Associate Publisher. Bishop joined AGL Media Group in 2004. He helped to launch and was the founding editor of AGL Magazine, the AGL Bulletin email newsletter (now AGL eDigest) and DAS and Small Cells magazine (now AGL Small Cell Magazine). He served as host for AGL Conferences from 2010 to 2012, appearing at 12 conferences. Bishop writes and otherwise obtains editorial content published in AGL Magazine, AGL eDigest and the AGL Media Group website. Bishop also photographs and films conferences and conventions. Many of his photographs have appeared on the cover, in articles and in the “AGL Tower of the Month” center spread photo feature in AGL Magazine. During his time with Wiesner Publishing, Primedia Business Information and AGL Media Group, he helped to launch several magazines and edited or managed editorial departments for a dozen magazines and their associated websites, newsletters and live event coverage. He is a former property manager, radio station owner and CEO of a broadcast engineering consulting firm. He was elected a Fellow of the Radio Club of America in 1988, received its Presidents Award in 1993, and served on its board of directors for nine years. Don Bishop may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speakers at the Competitive Carriers Association annual conference, held this week in Fort Worth, Texas, were tepid in their response to the FCC’s proposed changes to Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the 3.5 GHz band Citizens Broadband Radio Service regarding longer license terms, renewability, larger geographic license areas and auction methodology.
The breakfast session — titled “Where Will the Extra Network Capacity Come From?” – looked at the reasons wireless networks are constrained and capacity solutions such as additional spectrum, small cells, cell splitting and multiple in multiple out (MIMO) antennas.
The commission said the service rule changes are being considered because they are necessary for the United States to maintain its leadership in the global race for 5G.
“We must ensure that the service rules governing bands that are critical for 5G network deployments — including the 3.5 GHz band — keep up with technological advancements, create incentives for investment, encourage efficient spectrum use, support a variety of different use cases, and promote robust network deployments in both urban and rural communities,” the commission wrote.
Paul Challoner, VP network product solutions for Ericsson, added a note of urgency saying the United States is at risk at falling behind the world in allocating mid-band spectrum for 5G. He noted China has launched 5G field trials in the 3.5 GHz band and mid-band spectrum has been allocated in Europe.
“We as an industry have to create 3.5 GHz as a band where we can deliver 5G services throughout the United States,” Challoner said. “That’s really important. If you look at the United States, I think we have fallen behind in terms of the allocation of mid band spectrum for 5G. We, with the help of the FCC, need to get it straightened out and CBRS is a part of that.”
Proposed 3.5 GHz Changes Might Favor Larger Carriers
Originally, the FCC established a three-year license term for PALs, which would terminate automatically and might not be renewed. The proposed rules increase the PAL license term from three years to ten years and eliminate the requirement that PALs automatically terminate at the end of the license term.
“If we are going to put capital into the network, we need the certainty that it is not gone within three years,” said Craig Sparks, VP technology strategy and planning of C Spire. “Who wants to put that up just to have it pulled away?”
But members of the panel were wary of the possibility that the new rules might allow spectrum warehousing by tier-one carriers.
“We can’t have a tier-one carrier come in, and put up one site in the corner of the PEA [partial economic area] against the density and let the rest go fallow for the next 10 years,” Sparks said. “We really need an aggressive mechanism by which carriers have to use-it or lose-it or sub-license it out.”
The FCC originally defined the geographic license area for each PAL as one census tract, but the commission asked for opinions on a wide variety of alternatives, from partial economic areas to a county by county approach.
“Would counties, or a combination of PAL license areas (e.g., a hybrid combination of PEAs in urban areas and census tracts in rural areas, offering PALs of different sizes, such as PEAs and census tracts, or some other combination) ensure a diversity of auction participants, differing technologies, and rural deployments?” the FCC asked.
Nathan Sutton of Next Tech Wireless favored geographic areas on the smaller side for the CBRS auction.
“PEAs were good for the 600 MHz auction. I am not sure they would be good for CBRS because of the propagation characteristics and how tightly the spectrum will be controlled and monitored. A smaller bloc would be advisable,” he said.
Another issue of concern to smaller carriers is the size of the licenses in terms of spectrum. Currently the FCC limits the amount of spectrum a carrier can aggregate to 40 megahertz. But it is looking for guidance on whether to increase or decrease that number. Sutton said the spectrum size of a license can be a deal breaker for rural and regional carriers.
“The FCC needs to get this right. We can’t have another auction where a lot of capital goes out to get this spectrum,” Sutton said. “You set yourself up for the propensity for the big carriers to buy all of the spectrum and the small carriers get left out in the cold.”
Sparks agreed that the public good would be served in the CBRS through a balanced licensing approach.
“Whether an individual carrier in a market environment takes all the spectrum they can in an auction or a well-balanced model is used that lets companies come in through a lightly licensed approach, that is the heart of the debate of how CBRS at 3.5 GHz will work,” he said.
Challoner described the use cases that the OEM is seeing for the CBRS, including wireless traffic offload, fixed wireless access and private LTE.
“There are a number of use cases and we see the ecosystem shaping nicely as well,” Challoner said. “For the first time, with private LTE networks, we have shared spectrum and are not depending on a carrier’s licensed spectrum to cover an indoor venue, which can create neutral host networks.”