June 22, 2017 —
At the Wireless Infrastructure Show (WIS) in Orlando last month, Jonathan Adelstein said he places a high priority on fixing legislation that calls for the marking of many rural telecommunications towers as aviation hazards. Adelstein heads the Wireless Industry Association (WIA), a membership organization that owns WIS.
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who spoke at WIS as well, cited research indicating it could cost as much as $750 million to paint the many thousands of towers affected by the legislation, with repainting every seven years or so. The legislation addresses the hazard to pilots of aircraft used for crop dusting posed by temporary meteorological testing towers, but that perhaps inadvertently applies to telecom towers, too.
Although no one wants to put pilots at risk, another factor involved is the risk placed upon workers who would have to climb the towers to paint them.
O’Rielly said, “It is without question that there have been accidents involving crop dusters. But, it doesn’t appear that communications towers are to blame one iota.”
The commissioner also pointed to a possible unintended consequence that the added cost of painting towers could discourage broadband network construction in rural areas, limiting rural economic development and stymieing smart agriculture.
At the table where I sat, listening to the commissioner, two managers with one of the three public tower companies nodded their heads in agreement when O’Rielly said the escalating costs of the tribal approval process for towers represents a problem the FCC should address.
“One provider reports that, in 2011, they were paying an average of $439 in tribal review fees per site, and now they pay on average $6,754,” O’Rielly said. “That’s almost a 1,500 percent increase. And, more tribes have been expressing interest. For instance, 19 tribes responded to an application to add an antenna to a building in Cleveland and 39 tribes, of which 27 demanded fees, wanted to review sites in suburban Chicago. This is not economically sustainable. Further, tribes are receiving the payments, but then never respond as to whether there is actual concern, causing endless delays.”
I asked the commissioner how much power the FCC has to reduce tribal approval costs. He said the FCC has some authority and has a role to play. He said the FCC also has an obligation to inform Congress of the need for changes to the statute. O’Rielly said he has testified before Congress about it.
Relief may not come soon, but we hope that one day it will come.