Municipalities may see stricter cell tower application rules as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in City of Arlington, Texas, et al. v. Federal Communications Commission et. al. ruling, which affirmed the antenna siting shot clock, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai told Kevin Martin, Patton Boggs, in an onstage interview before an audience at the Tower and Small Cell Summit last month in Las Vegas.
“The decision does give us a little more leeway to apply those rules to make sure that they have a lot of teeth,” he said. “One of the things I have proposed … was for the FCC to adopt the back stop to those rules such that if a locality didn’t act on an application within 90 days or 150 days, whichever is relevant, that application would be deemed granted.”
Pai acknowledged that the process of deploying wireless infrastructure still runs into obstacles when filing applications on the state and local level, even with the current 90-day collocation, 150-day new tower shot clock.
“A lot of states and localities have adopted moratoria or otherwise ignore the shot clock in trying to process these applications,” he said. “What the Supreme Court’s decision portends for the FCC, in the long term, is just the streamlined application of the shot clock to a lot of wireless infrastructure, which is essential in this day and age.”
Regulation of applications for wireless systems still needs fine tuning to speed the roll out of broadband, Pai said.
“It becomes incumbent upon the FCC to really study this issue and make sure that states and localities as well as the federal government are standing out of the way, doing what they need to do to keep the public safe, of course, but otherwise standing out the way and letting people deploy this central infrastructure especially in dense urban environments,” he said.
The FCC should issue a Notice of Proposed Rule Making to clarify that an application has to be acted on within 90 days or 150 days, Pai said.
“Theoretically, I guess we could issue a decision sooner rather than later but given the fact that a lot of time has passed I think it would be nice to make sure all the current commissioners have input, get public input, and get everyone on the same page,” he said.
The ruling also has implications for the commission in terms of on how it approaches its general authority and jurisdiction, as well as towers.
“[The Supreme Court ruling] really is a fundamental decision for the wireless industry and for the FCC,” Pai said. “The court ruled that the FCC did deserve deference from the judicial branch when it was deciding the scope of its authority. And that’s a fundamentally important principal for the FCC written large across the administrative law landscape.”