The FCC plans a vote on a clarification of its rules implementing Section 6409(a) of the of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 to eliminate unwarranted delays of tower upgrade requests, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr announced during his keynote address at the Wireless Infrastructure Association’s Connectivity Expo.
“We know more towers need to be built to cover every American and to offer rural families a choice for high-speed service,” Carr said. “But we also know that much of that work will be for upgrades — putting new tech on old steel, replacing 4G or even 3G antennas with 5G. Amid all of these critical upgrades, we need to upgrade our rules.”
Section 6409 requires local governments to approve modifications to wireless infrastructure that do not substantially change the size of the towers or base stations. The FCC defined these modifications — removing equipment and deploying equipment — within its rules when it modified the rules in 2014.
The FCC made available to the public on Tuesday a proposed Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, dubbed the 5G Upgrade Order, intended to clarify the rules. The FCC will vote whether to adopt is during its June meeting.
The ruling seeks to clarify the 60-day shot clock, which begins when the wireless builder submits documents that show a project qualifies for expedited review.
The ruling would also clarify what equipment can go on the existing structure, specifying what new equipment qualifies for streamlined approval.
“We reiterate that individual pieces of transmission equipment are not themselves ‘cabinets,’ and that up to four equipment cabinets are allowed per request, not cumulatively,” Carr said. “We also clarify how a modification can increase a tower’s height to allow 20 feet of distance between antennas.”
Additionally, the ruling would make a distinction between concealment elements and other conditions of approval that relate to aesthetics, clarifying how local governments’ concealment and aesthetic conditions of approval apply.
“Concealment elements that cannot be defeated in a modification apply only to stealthed structures, like a wireless tower made to look like a tree or flagpole,” Carr said. “Certain aesthetic conditions also must be upheld, but we explain that they can’t be enforced in a way that negates our other rules that promote streamlined approval.” The NPRM seeks comment on issues concerning the expansion of existing sites.
The FCC developed the 5G Upgrade Order with the help of local governments and the wireless industry, including the Wireless Infrastructure Association and CTIA, whose FCC petitions were addressed, according to the commissioner.
“These actions are meant, once again, to separate the difficult project approvals from the easier ones. This will allow local governments and tower crews to focus their efforts on projects that merit more detailed review,” Carr said. “We are grateful for your continued participation in this process as we all seek to upgrade America’s wireless networks and extend U.S. leadership in 5G.”