After he was confirmed as an FCC Commissioner last August, Brendan Carr was asked by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to lead the agency’s wireless infrastructure efforts.
In his first 11 months on the job, Carr has taken on his job with a relish for meeting with the wireless infrastructure industry not from behind his desk but out in the field. Previously serving as general counsel of the FCC, as an attorney and as a law clerk, Carr has supplemented his legal knowledge with experiences in the real world, attending the opening of the new headquarters of Sioux Falls Tower & Communications; conducting a site visit to a cell tower in Noblesville, Indiana; witnessing a C Spire 5g wireless internet trial in Pelahatchie, Mississippi; and even climbing a cell tower in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
On Thursday, Commissioner Carr once again reached out to the wireless infrastructure industry traveling to the AGL Local Summit in Philadelphia to provide both a keynote address and to do a question and answer session with Bryan Tramont, managing partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer.
He discussed the FCC’s two-prong approach to facilitating 5G through the allocation of spectrum and updating local infrastructure deployment rules.
On the spectrum side, he noted that the commission began allocating high-band frequencies for 5G back in 2016. More recently it has moved forward on opening up several more bands for 5G, including 2.5 GHz, 24 GHz, 26 GHz, 28 GHz, 37 GHz, 42 GHz and 39 GHz bands. Not counting 3.5 GHz.
“At the FCC, we have already assigned more high-band spectrum for 5G than any other country in the world — we’re more than four gigahertz ahead of second-place China,” Carr said. “And we won’t stop there. We are looking to free up more low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum.”
And more spectrum auctions are coming up this Fall, “We are full steam ahead on the spectrum front,” Carr said. “We do have good running room leading the world in opening up spectrum.”
5G Cannot Live on Spectrum Alone
Carr was quick to add that spectrum alone will not catapult the United States into the next generation of wireless. The FCC, which has exempted small cells from SHPA and NEPA reviews, is looking into the role state and local governments play in facilitating the deployment of next-gen wireless infrastructure.
The commission will look at compensation that states and local municipalities charge for managing rights-of-way and access to public infrastructure.
“There are real costs there. But that does not mean that government should view each deployment as a revenue generating opportunity,” Carr said. “The economic benefits for communities arise once we get our neighborhoods connected to next-gen networks.”
The FCC will look to update its shot clocks on local reviews of small cell applications, which were set up collocations on macrotowers.
“We adopted the existing timeframes before the spike in smaller scale facilities we’re seeing today,” Carr said. “So we need to make sure that we have the right review periods in place. Obtaining timely decisions is key to the timely deployment of new networks.”
The FCC will look at providing carriers more certainty regarding access to rights-of-way. State and local moratoria will be examined as well. In sum, the agency will attempt to bring parity between how wireless infrastructure and other uses of rights-of-way are treated.
“There are other important and commonsense guideposts that merit consideration when we discuss state and local approval processes, and I look forward to sharing more specific thoughts as we complete our review,” Carr said.
The starting point for the FCC’s review is the decisions that Congress has already made in Section 253 and Section 332 of the Communications Act, he said.
“Our job is not to work from scratch. We will look at the decision that Congress made and interpret them in light of the current deployments,” he said. “But we want to move forward aggressively.”
Carr has not found a lot of disagreement among municipalities concerning rights-of-way access. “Take the application process. The rates should be reasonably close to the city’s costs for processing,” he said. “Then there are other issues concerning the city’s infrastructure. What should the rates be? We are working through all of those.”
Exorbitant right-of-way rates will hurt communities that are outside of the major markets because they will reduce the capital available for infrastructure deployment.
“You have to balance the legitimate interests of the locality and the burdens on the rights of way and their costs for tearing up the streets. They have to be fully compensated, but there is some outlier conduct out there that we can address what will ultimately help all these communities,” Carr said.
Legislation streamlining small cell deployment has been passed in 20 states at the same time that reforms are being considered at the federal level, but Carr did not see any dissonance between the two initiatives.
“There is a lot of common ground between the two efforts to make sure that local rates do not make it uneconomical to deploy 5G,” he said. “I think it’s great to see the commitment that the states have shown to address small cells. My hope ultimately is that there will be a lot of common ground between what’s already been done and what we are going to be thinking about.”
Along with communicating with the wireless infrastructure industry, Carr has devoted time to learn the views of the municipalities, meeting with county commissioners and mayors, including an address at the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“Regardless of the policies we make, we need to recognize the important role that local officials play. We will take that into account going forward,” Carr added.