The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is in the process of implementing changes in the environmental assessment (EA) process that could have an enormous impact on the cost and time involved in for the registration of antenna structures.
The FCC released interim procedural measures, last December, to ensure that environmental effects of proposed communications towers, including their effects on migratory birds, are considered prior to construction. This included changes in FCC Form 854, Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) and the public’s ability to file requests for environmental review.
Under the interim rules, an environment assessment will automatically be required for any tower over 450 feet AGL.
The FCC established a public notice period applicable to all new towers requiring an ASR and certain modified or replacement towers requiring an ASR. This procedure requires a local public notice and an national public notice through the FCC. The public will have 30 days to file comments objecting to the tower based on environmental grounds. During the 30-day posting period on the FCC website, members of the public may submit requests for further environmental review if they believe that a proposed tower or tower modification may have a significant impact on the environment.
“This is a big deal,” said Bill Sill, head of Wilkinson Barker Knauer’s tower group, before an audience, May 8, at the Tower Technology Summit in New Orleans. “Currently, if you use the ASR process, once you have filed, it takes 15 minutes to a couple of hours to receive an approval. Once the interim ASR rules go into effect it could take months.”
The FCC will launch a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to evaluate whether the ASR program will remain the same or will become more complex, more expensive and slower, Sill said.
“If the most draconian alternative were chosen, the time involved in ASR approval could slide from several months under the interim ASR rules to years. The cost to the industry could jump from $1.8 million to $42 million a year according to FCC estimates. There is a lot at stake,” Sill said.
For more than five years, a coalition of CTIA, PCIA, NAB and NATE has been involved in putting forth the industry’s positions in the FCC’s migratory bird proceedings and the recent Programmatic Environmental Assessment. Sill noted that the infrastructure coalition and the conservation groups brokered a memorandum of understanding that formed the nucleus of the interim ASR rules. Sill called on the industry as whole to stay involved in the upcoming NPRM.
“The FCC’s challenge is to promote broadband build out as it balances different regulatory mandates but also the conflicting demands of different interest groups,” Sill said in New Orleans. “To keep the ASR system viable, the industry must continue to provide a counterbalance to the advocacy and the data provided by the conservation groups and other special interest groups.”
A live, webcast demonstration of the changes to the ASR filing system was held this morning, which will be available for replay. The environmental notification process and the corresponding rule changes will become effective upon publication in the Federal Register of their approval by the Office of Management and Budget.