March 16, 2017
This is the first in a two-part series covering comments in the FCC proceeding “Streamlining Deployment of Small Cell Infrastructure by Improving Wireless Facilities Siting Policies; Mobilitie Petition for Declaratory Ruling (WT Docket No. 16-421).” First we examine some of the key problems voiced by OEMs, carriers and small cell providers. Next, we will look at the municipal point of view.
The wireless industry voice its frustration with processes in place at municipalities to regulate small cells in the public rights of way in comments filed the FCC’s streamlining small cell deployment proceeding, last week. Procedures that are sometimes confusing and other times duplicative, which extend the approval time for wireless facilities and make it less economical for the carriers, according to the comments.
T-Mobile described the current regulatory environment as a “web” of federal, state and local rules developed based on the macrocell environment. Nokia called municipalities processes “ill-defined and inefficient” said they yield “haphazard” results. Part of the problem, according to the OEM, is that many municipalities have not incorporated Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act, into their practices.
“The lack of clear procedures makes the application process much more difficult at the outset – it can be hard to know where to even start – let alone ultimately obtaining the required authorization to move forward,” Nokia wrote.
Jurisdictions’ inefficient processes are exacerbated by a lack of employees to process siting requests, which ends up “clogging the deployment pipeline,” Nokia wrote. Multiple review processes of different agencies within a jurisdiction can also slow the process and sow the seed of confusion.
Small cell deployments have also been delayed by moratoria, Crown Castle wrote.
ExteNet wrote that regulation by many local governments regularly “prohibits or effectively prohibits” the provision of service. The company said its distributed network system applications are subjected to formal zoning process that are not required of other entities deploying on poles in the rights of way.
Unfair Fees Threaten Small Cell Deployments
The wireless industry fully supported Mobilitie’s Petition for Declaratory Ruling, writing that the fees charged for use of the ROW are many times are not in alignment with what they thought was fair.
Crown Castle wrote that while it has cooperated with municipalities on hundreds of small cell deployments, it too has run into instances where it felt discriminated against by what it called unreasonable fees.
“Other jurisdictions, meanwhile, discriminate against small cell installations in the rights-of-way while allowing, if not encouraging, other utilities to install equipment that frequently is larger than small cell equipment,” Crown Castle wrote.
Part of the problem is the fees don’t seem to be based on the costs of approving applications or maintaining the rights-of-way, according to Crown Castle. T-Mobile echoed sentiments by Mobilitie that some municipalities seek to recover the market rate of ROW instead of compensation for their expenses.
As a result, these fees can make small cell deployments expensive. Nokia complained that site “inspection fees” may be charge in excess of $3,000 per-location threaten the economics of small cell deployments.
What’s the Fix?
The Wireless Infrastructure Association offered several ways that that FCC could use existing law to help municipalities to improve their ROW processes.
WIA called on the FCC to guide municipalities in treating small cell providers in a competitively neutral and nondiscriminatory manner by clarifying Sections 253 and 332 of the Telecom Act.
The FCC should state that a municipality must not inhibit a company’s ability to compete in a fair and legal regulatory environment, according to the WIA filing. Local governments should not have “unfettered discretion over applications” and require “lengthy or onerous application processes.”
“Further, the Commission should explicitly declare that imposition of regulations and requirements on small wireless facility deployments that are not imposed on other telecommunications equipment installed on poles in the public rights-of-way are a barrier to entry,” WIA wrote, “and that such discriminatory imposition of requirements is not a reasonable or competitively neutral and nondiscriminatory management of the public rights-of-way.”
Commenting about the Mobilitie petition, WIA wrote that municipal fees imposed on small wireless facilities in the ROW must not be more those levied on other telecom equipment.
“Further, the Commission should declare that municipal fees are limited to recovery of the municipality’s actual cost of managing the occupation of the right-of-way by the small wireless facility network,” WIA wrote.