October 16, 2014 – At tomorrow’s open meeting, the FCC is slated to issue a wireless infrastructure order aimed at streamlining regulations, speeding wireless network deployment.
In particular, the FCC is expected to clarify the rules for upgrading technology on existing infrastructure and streamline the environmental and historic preservation review processes for DAS and small cells. The importance to broadband deployment of defining attachment rights on existing infrastructure cannot be underestimated, according to Jonathan Adelstein, CEO, PCIA – the Wireless Infrastructure Association.
“The Oct. 17 Order is like the Super Bowl of regulatory proceedings for those of us in the wireless infrastructure industry,” Adelstein said. “This will be a huge accomplishment. They are getting ahead of the curve on this, paving the way for continued enormous capital investments to deploy the amount of infrastructure it is going to take to meet rising consumer demands for data.”
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski began the process to improve the speed of broadband deployment, and Interim Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn put out an NPRM last September. The proposed Report and Order was authored by current Chairman Tom Wheeler, who Adelstein commended for “sealing the deal.”
“Policymakers are increasingly recognizing the key role that infrastructure plays in delivering wireless broadband as an indispensable part of the solution,” he said. “This is great work done by the chairman and commissioners of the FCC. This proceeding is coming to a conclusion in a rapid period of time.”
A Common Sense Approach to Sharing Existing Infrastructure
The FCC’s “shot clock” order, which sets time periods for application siting reviews, is expected to be strengthened to reflect Section 6409(a) of the tax act of 2012. Ben Moreland, president and CEO of Crown Castle International, noted that collocation is good for wireless competition, accommodating new carriers in the market quickly and cost-effectively.
“By further defining Section 6409 to be more specific, it helps the law do what it was intended to do, which at its core is about sharing the existing infrastructure,” Moreland said.
Moreland emphasized that he believes the tower industry has already received benefits from Section 6409 of the legislation, which he said has been broadly adopted at the state and local levels. In fact, 11 states have passed 13 bills to streamline broadband deployment.
“The order is about reinforcing the work around Section 6409, which has already been a big help to our industry and has received a lot of cooperation at the state and municipal level,” he said. “It is further definition about areas of the law where there was some ambiguity.”
The order is expected to provide further definition of what would amount to a “significant change” proposed by a carrier to an existing structure, which would prompt a zoning review. PCIA urged the FCC to use existing definitions of small cells and DAS already in use in historic and environmental regulations.
“We need these terms to be defined,” Adelstein said. “We can’t afford to have these deployments caught up in red tape. It is a national priority. Any time that is spent fighting over a deployment on a tower that has already been zoned is a waste of resources for both the municipality and the company involved.”
PCIA hopes the order will produce greater certainty in the FCC’s overall processes, spurring increased broadband investments. The association’s leadership and membership have worked closely with the FCC in crafting the order.
“We hope the order will eliminate the uncertainty and unnecessary cost and delay around future investment in broadband networks,” Moreland said.
“Currently, $100 billion has been invested in infrastructure by the three largest tower companies. We have built a competitive, efficient model for infrastructure that encourages competition in the wireless industry. The FCC has been a big advocate for our model.”
October 8, 2014 — Last week, the Department of Labor (DoL) announced a $3.25 million grant to create a college-based template for wireless infrastructure job training at Virginia State University, Petersburg, Virginia. The grant is critical to creating jobs, maintaining global competitiveness and enabling future network upgrades, according to Jonathan Adelstein, PCIA – the Wireless Infrastructure Association.
“The educational system in America has not kept up with the growth of our industry. It is critical for our industry that we improve the level of training and skills. We don’t have enough qualified personnel to do the job, and we are going to do something about that,” he said on a press conference call.
PCIA helped write the grant, which will allow VSU to strengthen a new program aimed at building a network of colleges to train students for high-skilled careers in wireless infrastructure, and the association will assist in managing the program. As part of the award, DoL approved $750,000 for PCIA to help create nationally recognized competencies and credentials in the field of wireless infrastructure deployment.
“The education system is like an aircraft carrier. We are going to turn that around, but it’s going to take time. We are proactively trying to get our industry the workers that it needs,” Adelstein said.
The association will establish a collaborative board comprised of carriers, wireless infrastructure owners, large general contractors and other industry associations that will oversee development of the training and standards to be taught. The academic curriculum will be created by industry professionals, including members of PCIA.
“Through this board, we are trying raise the standardization of training nationwide, taught by certified trainers,” Adelstein said. “We want to establish credentials that are verifiable with a national database, so that an employer can see if someone can do a certain type of work. This will improve not only safety but also the quality of the work being done.”
The grant will extend through 2018 and is aimed at enabling trainees to receive hands-on technical and safety training at VSU and partner schools. PCIA has also partnered with the Departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs to support the veterans’ job training program known as Warriors4Wireless.
“Virginia State University is going to be the center of wireless education in the United States,” Adelstein said.
“This will give veterans and displaced workers opportunities to be trained, certified and employed in wireless infrastructure.”
Adelstein, who was joined by Ben Moreland, head of Crown Castle and chair of PCIA’s boards, referred to October as one of the most important months wireless has experienced. He and Moreland spoke at length about the importance of the FCC Report and Order concerning small cell zoning rules coming out on Oct. 17.
He also spoke about the Oct. 9 “connected farm” event with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, featuring PCIA member John Deere, the October 15-16 PCIA/HetNet Expo in Chicago and the Oct. 16 PCIA workshop on federal lands siting issues. Additionally, on Oct. 14, FCC Chairman Wheeler and DoL Secretary Perez are expected to announce the establishment of a DoL-approved private-public apprenticeship partnership that will lead the telecommunications industry’s efforts to train technically skilled wireless infrastructure workers.
With carriers making progress by leaps and bounds in LTE deployment, are the good times are about to come to an end? That was one of the questions Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO, PCIA-The Wireless Infrastructure Association, posed to the tower executive panel at the association’s annual conference, Oct. 9 in Hollywood, Fla.
“We have seen the coverage maps … and you see them getting filled out and people are kind of wondering where are we in the 4G build out?” Adelstein asked The View From the Top – A Tower CEO Roundtable panel.
SBA Communications is busy and expects to be for some time, according to Jeff Stoops, president and CEO, because it is early in the LTE deployment.
“We’re still getting to full coverage. We’re not there yet. And we’re just beginning to crack the capacity stage and the ultimate full build out and tweaking of the networks,” Stoops said. “So, I’m very optimistic that the strong trends that we’re currently involved with will continue for some period of time.”
Ben Moreland, president and CEO, Crown Castle International, said his company is seeing a return to collocations this year as Verizon Wireless and AT&T get further along into their LTE builds.
Amendments peaked in the fourth quarter of 2012 at historically high levels at SBA Communications and now the trend is moving toward collocations, according to Stoops.
“When you think about how carriers deploy their networks, it is all about speed and efficiency, which is the amendment process,” he said. “And then what has followed in past cycles and I don’t see this one as any different is the in-fill stage where they test the holes and the demand. And that’s really satisfied by brand new tenancies.”
Steven Marshall, executive vice president, American Tower, said the company is seeing somewhat of a swing back to collocations but is still experiencing a great deal of amendment activity.
The tower CEOs discussed what might be the next carrier to enter the wireless industry and which spectrum it might use. Dish Network was held by to be the most likely to get into the ring by Moreland and Stoops
“Dish Network is very public about their need and desire to have a wireless product. They’ve been obviously very aggressive in acquiring spectrum and have made no bones about their interest in either acquiring or partnering with a wireless carrier to get out and build a wireless product,” Moreland said.
DISH controls enough spectrum and has a plan to deploy on a network-sharing basis, according to Stoops.
While Marshall had no prediction on the next carrier entrant, he said that the Dish spectrum will ultimately get deployed and drive additional demand for infrastructure.
“Maybe other people, maybe Charlie Ergen [Dish chairman of the board], will ultimately land on a particular strategy that drives a lot more infrastructure investment for us. But one thing’s for sure, this is a fantastic industry that’s got fantastic runway and great growth potential. Other carriers will continue to invest in their platforms and other people will come in to provide that need.”
The FCC has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, known as the broadband deployment proceeding, which is designed to speed up the deployment of wireless infrastructure. Cell site collocations, DAS and small cell deployments, and temporary towers are all included the proceeding. PCIA The Wireless Infrastructure Association applauded the commission’s aggressive approach to streamlining its rules.
“The commission demonstrated real leadership by taking such a comprehensive approach to deal with the wireless data crunch,” said Jonathan Adelstein, PCIA president and CEO.
Russell Fox, a member of the law firm Mintz Levin, said all of the proposals, if approved, would speed up tower siting.
“All of the proposals are designed to remove impediments and burdens or otherwise clarify the current regulations,” Fox said.
Municipalities will not be supportive about what they see as the federal government’s infringement on local control of cell site zoning, according to Jonathan Kramer, wireless consultant to several cities in California.
“Everyone knew it was coming, yet the commission has gone beyond what some expected by asking us to comment on fundamental issues of whether the federal or state and local governments control local land use and safety codes, and how to torture the plain words of what many see as a fundamentally flawed, arguably unconstitutional federal cram-down,” Kramer said.
Section 6409(a) of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which streamlines the regulatory process for collocations, will take center stage as the commission seeks to clarify and implement the congressional mandate that states: “A state or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facility’s request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station.”
To do that, the FCC must clarify the scope of the provision and define several of the statutory terms. In January, the FCC’s wireless bureau provided interpretations of terms such as “wireless tower or base station” and “substantially change the physical dimensions.” But the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee believes the commission should issue definitions in a formal process.
“This law [Section 6409(a)] has enabled upgrades from 3G to 4G LTE technology in record time, and defining its terms will further accelerate that progress,” Adelstein.
The NPRM puts into the rules some of the guidance that has previously been provided by the FCC, offering interpretations of the certain phrases in 6409(a), according to Fox.