October 23, 2014 — The FCC has been diligently allocating spectrum to facilitate broadband wireless communications, but at its Oct. 17 open meeting the commission admitted it needed to do more to promote the build out of the infrastructure needed to use those frequencies. New rules were approved to reduce the regulatory burdens associated with zoning and planning DAS and small cell sites.
The commission wrote that current rules, which were crafted for macrocellular sites, have become outdated as much smaller DAS systems and small cells have evolved to be installed on utility poles, buildings and other existing structures, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
“The Order we adopt today accounts for that change by crafting a more efficient process for small deployments and other installations that do not trigger concerns about environmental protection or historic preservation,” Wheeler wrote. “The Order also implements federal statutory directives that are intended to make state and local review more efficient for wireless deployments and modifications.”
At the same time, Wheeler promised that the Order would not intrude on the state, local, and tribal governments’ authority to adopt and apply the zoning, safety and concealment requirements for their communities.
“Taken together, the rules we adopt today lay the groundwork for delivering more wireless capacity in more locations to consumers throughout the United States — while staying true to our statutory obligations to protect the environment and historic properties, and with sufficient safeguards to protect local land-use priorities as well as safety and aesthetic interests,” Wheeler wrote.
The FCC’s order defines the terms of Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act and developing rules for its implementation at the state and local level, including a new shot clock during which an application must be addressed or it is deemed granted. This action will ensure the efficient use of previously approved structures to support new antennas and technology upgrades. Among the items addressed, the FCC:
• Excluded certain DAS, small cells, and other discrete wireless facilities from environmental and historic preservation review, particularly for those deployments leveraging utility poles in rights of way and on building rooftops.
• Clarified the shot clock and defined wireless facility siting application processes, including applying the shot clock to DAS and small cells, limiting when additional application information can be requested and clarifying when the shot clock begins and when it can be tolled.
• Removed barriers to the deployment of temporary towers to boost coverage for large gatherings such as festivals and rallies.
Ernest Worthman is the editor of AGL Small Cell Magazine.
J. Sharpe Smith, AGL Small Cell Link and AGL Link editor, contributed.