Tribal participation in Section 106 historic preservation reviews is another big issue that the FCC is tackling in next week’s Wireless Infrastructure Streamlining Report and Order. Tribal nations and Native Hawaiian Organizations engage in historic preservation review on cell tower construction projects located off of tribal lands and outside reservation boundaries.
The issue can be divided into two segments, delays and costs. Complicating the matter is that there are there are 573 federally recognized Indian Nations, each of which are recognized as sovereign governments.
Delays associated with tribal engagement can be substantial, according the FCC, with the average time to complete tribal review ranging between 75 and 110 days per project, which tribes contend is the result of insufficient information and other mistakes in the application process.
Tribal review fees also vary widely based on the location of the project and the number of tribes taking part. While a build in Hawaii or the West Coast may incur fees from $500 to $2,000 per site, according to the FCC, a project in Indianapolis may exceed $15,000 per site because more tribal nations review the project. As many 20 to 30 tribes may weigh in on a tower build.
In addition, the number tribal nations involved in NHPA review nearly doubled from an average of eight per project in 2015 to 15 in 2017. More tribes charge fees today, 104, compared with 56 in 2015. Total average tribal fees per site increased from an average of $2,000 in 2015 up to $11,450 today.
“More tribes are responding, and each tribe is charging more, giving rise to the fee issue that we now have. 5G with its vast number of small cells will be another multiplying factor,” said Bill Sill, veteran telecom lawyer and president, SS1G. “The growing number of tribes interested in cell tower builds requires a lot of communication and a lot of administrative work.”
In one example, CTI Towers is seeing fees of $8,000 for the tribal process for a new build, but some sites that seen more than doubled that, upward to $20,000. Wildly varying fees make it hard to budget the cost to build a tower, according to Carrie Ortolano – general counsel, CTI Towers.
“It has been a huge pain point for the industry for a number of years,” said Carrie Ortolano – general counsel, CTI Towers. “The industry has been screaming that it wants some certainty in the process, the timeline and the fees.”
Tribal Response Times Shortened, Fees Cut
In its proposed order, the FCC took measures to ensure that tribal nations and NHOs are provided the information necessary to comment on the proposed cell site. However, the time frame for the tribal response was shortened. The revised procedures give tribal nations and NHOs 45 days to respond to an applicant’s notification of a proposed construction. The 45-day period will also include a commission-initiated reminder after 30 days.
“The FCC has taken a hard look at the very complex Section 106 system and candidly evaluated where it could be reformed and came up with a document that in many ways is courageous, because there are multiple competing perspectives of Section 106,” Sill said.
In its order, the FCC said that applicants have no legal obligation to pay up-front fees to tribal nations and NHOs for commenting on proposed facilities deployments. And, if additional consultant services are necessary after a potentially affected historic property is identified, neither the commission nor the applicant is obligated to hire a particular person to perform such consultant services.
The Wireless Infrastructure Streamlining Report and Order (WT Docket No. 17-79), which will be voted on next week (March 22).
The wireless industry has long held that it has problems caused by the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which seek to protect historic properties and the environment, respectively, from construction. With small cell deployments soaring, the money spent on NHPA and NEPA reviews was expected to do the same.
Sprint estimates that it has done preliminary NEPA checklists for thousands of sites at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. Of those sites, 250 demanded environmental assessment that cost $1,300. NEPA and NHPA reviews comprised, on average, 26 percent of the costs for Verizon’s small cell deployments in 2017. In the coming months, AT&T expects to spend $45 million on NEPA and NHPA compliance for thousands of small cells.
In the FCC’s proposed Wireless Infrastructure Streamlining Report and Order (WT Docket No. 17-79), which seeks to reduce regulatory costs and streamline its rules, small cell deployments would not be required to undergo a review under the NHPA and the NEPA.
“We deem the costs of that resulting [NHPA and NEPA] review to be unduly burdensome in light of the nature of small wireless facility deployment, the benefits of efficient and effective deployment, and the minimal anticipated benefits of NHPA and NEPA review in this context,” the FCC wrote in its draft order.
AT&T estimates that such an action would reduce small cell NEPA/NHPA compliance costs by up to 80 percent, which would fund over 1,000 additional small cell nodes annually and reduce the small cell deployment timeline by 60-90 days. The item will be voted on at next Thursdays open meeting on March 22.
The FCC’s proposed wireless infrastructure order would save Americans $1.56 billion, according to a report released today from the international consulting firm Accenture. Not only would the order lead to more broadband for more Americans—including the expedited roll out of 5G—but the savings also could create more than 17,000 jobs, according to industry statistics.
The 5G Ready wireless infrastructure order would exempt small cells from certain federal historic and environmental reviews while streamlining those reviews for traditional macrocell sites. It comes after nearly a year of public outreach and consultation, in which the Commission heard from communities affected by insufficient mobile broadband coverage.
The Accenture report found that:
· 29 percent of current small cell deployment costs come from NEPA/NHPA review
· Federal environmental and historic reviews cost nearly $10,000 per small cell
· The order would save Americans $1.56 billion between 2018-2026 alone
The private sector is projected to invest $275 billion to upgrade America’s wireless service to 5G. The order’s cost savings alone would allow wireless providers to create more than 17,000 jobs and build in excess of 57,000 small cells, based on data derived from the report.
“Today’s report makes clear that cutting red tape means more broadband for more Americans,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. “Eliminating unnecessary regulations will provide better broadband, connect underserved areas, and create jobs. I look forward to ensuring America is ‘5G Ready’ and that we win the global race to 5G.”
The FCC has adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to ensure that innovative new technologies and services that would serve the public interest are encouraged and made available to the public on a timely basis. Technological advancements have continually expanded the boundaries of communications services, fueled the economic engine of the United States, and benefitted American consumers.
Specifically, the NPRM proposes rules and procedures to implement Section 7 of the Communications Act, which was passed by Congress in 1983 to require timely action by the Commission to encourage provision of new technologies and services to the public.
Clear rules and guidelines on implementing section 7 are long overdue. While the Commission has a long history of facilitating the introduction of new technologies and services, the regulatory path from technological breakthrough to authorization of service has often been too long and arduous.
The NPRM proposes rules for Commission evaluation of petitions or applications proposing new technologies and service. In addition, the NPRM seeks comment on how the Commission can comply with the statutory requirements of section 7 for Commission-initiated proceedings for new technologies or services.
There is something for everyone in H.R 4986, the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services, or RAY BAUM’S Act, which passed the House of Representatives this week. The bipartisan compromise included key provisions of the MOBILE NOW act, the House took steps to make sure more spectrum will be available for 5G technology deployment and streamlined siting of wireless infrastructure in federal lands.
“I would say that, as an infrastructure provider, we commend this effort to streamline deployments and expedite future spectrums auctions and hope to see the Senate pass this as well,” Carrie Ortolano, general counsel, CTI Towers, said. “In particular, CTI Towers applauds the effort to streamline and make uniform the process to place infrastructure on federal property and hopes to see more federal property available for infrastructure development as a result once this bill is passed.”
In particular, the bill directs the FCC to find 255 megahertz of federal and non-federal spectrum for mobile and fixed wireless broadband use, and it set a two-year deadline for the commission to authorize mobile or fixed terrestrial wireless use between 42000 MHz and 42500 MHz. Additionally, the FCC is charged with evaluating the feasibility of commercial wireless between 3100 MHz and 3550 MHz and between 3700 MHz and 4200 MHz.
“Specifically, by including both MOBILE NOW and the Spectrum Deposits Act in today’s compromise, it provides an important technical fix and lays important groundwork for the FCC to proceed with key spectrum auctions,” FCC Comm. Michael O’Reilly said in a statement. “Once this becomes law there are several large-scale spectrum auctions for mid-band and millimeter wave spectrum – especially the upper 37 GHz (37.6-38.6 GHz) – that the Commission needs to conduct in the very near future.
The bill reauthorizes the FCC for FY2019-FY2020 (the first time in 28 years) and sets new expectations for the agency in terms of transparency and more efficient processes.
Congress designated an independent inspector general to watch over the agency, elevated the role of Chief Information Officer to handling planning, and took actions concerning the fees charged by the Commission. The FCC was also directed to improve its wireless coverage maps.
The legislation combines an effort to streamline processes and increase transparency to the FCC to “maximize opportunities for public participation and efficient decision making” and establish a fund in the U.S. Treasury to pay for costs incurred by the broadcast TV repack.
FCC is also required evaluate the broadband coverage in Indian country and carry out rulemaking to address unserved tribal areas.
There is even something for the consumers in this law, helping the FCC and law enforcement protect them from fraudulent telephone calls, and to educate Americans about how to stop illegal calls. It will now go the Senate for a vote.
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.