Legislation aimed at controlling the costs and reducing the time for small cell deployment introduced in the Senate is compatible with the Third Report and Order scheduled to be voted on at the FCC next week, according congressional staff members who spoke during the Legislative Policy Initiatives: Congressional Agenda panel at the Mobile World Congress Americas last week in Los Angeles.
STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act was introduced late in June by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).
“The FCC is doing great work that is complementary to what we are doing,” said Crystal Tully, policy director and counsel for Sen. Thune. “We are supportive of what the FCC is doing at the same time as we are. We talk with them about what they are doing and stakeholders that we have both met with.”
Eric Einhorn, senior counsel technology and communications policy for Sen. Schatz, said there is a lot of overlap between the FCC’s Third Report and Order ad and the Streamline Small Cell Deployment Act. “There is a lot of interplay between the two and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out,” he said.
One big difference between the Act and the Third Report and Order that lawyers and judges will notice is the FCC interpreted Section 253 of the Communications Act while the bill seeks to insert a new section into Section 332(c) of the Communications Act. Local governments have already signaled that they will attack the Commission’s interpretation of Section 253 in the courts.
One source told eDigest that they wondered why Congress would take up the controversial issue, and the potential political flak, when the FCC was already heading in that direction.
Tully said her senator decided to introduce the legislation after hearing about the delays carriers were experiencing in small cell deployment. Over the last year and a half, Thune has been meeting with the wireless industry and state and local government stakeholders to see how deployment can be sped up on state and local lands.
“They came to us to us to see how we could speed up the local zoning approval process. In South Dakota, you only have six months to site small cells because of the cold weather and frozen ground, so we needed to figure out how speed up the process.” Tully said.
Having shot clocks in place to spur the siting process would not only help South Dakotans beat the winter freeze, but also assist U.S. companies to catch up with other nations in the race to 5G, Tully added.
Einhorn said the capital-intensive nature of the wireless business needs “certainty and a good set of rules” to meet the timeline that is needed to deploy the hundreds of thousands of small cells needed for 5G.
“The structure under Section 332 of the Communications Act was written for tall towers and it was a mismatch for small cells,” Einhorn said. “What we did was carve out a spot for small cells defined by size and by a set of different parameters.”
Tully met with the National Association of Towns and Townships and found out about smaller town’s and township’s lack of resources to handle the small cell applications. So, the shot clock is longer for towns with under 50,000 people.
It’s early days for the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act. It has yet to have a hearing or companion legislation introduced in the House. It’s hard to envision how the FCC’s interpretation of current communications law will mesh with Congress’ potential rewrite of that law. There is the possibility that if the Third Report and Order is adopted but doesn’t pass the inevitable court challenge, the Act could fill the gap and push the small cell streamlining initiative forward.