Oct. 2, 2014 — Stepping into the lion’s den of a national gathering of municipal officials, FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler made an impassioned call for local governments to join the FCC in its efforts to facilitate the deployment of broadband wireless and wireline networks.
“I understand the very real and very strong not-in-my-backyard sentiments,” Wheeler said. “Everyone wants cell phone service but no one wants cell phone antennas in their neighborhood. Everyone wants access to state-of-the-art transmission service, but no one wants the neighborhood streets dug up. It reminds me of another folk song: ‘Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.’”
In a keynote speech before the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors Annual Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, Oct. 1, the FCC chairman tied the need for high-speed broadband networks to national competitiveness, local choice and competition among providers.
“We’re talking about a national priority; about the maintenance of economic leadership; about America’s continuing to be the home of innovation,” he said. “We need faster networks in more places. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of seeing the charts of where the U.S. ranks in comparison to the broadband speeds of other nations. Table stakes for the 21st century is 25 Mbps, and winning the game means that all consumers can get at least 100 Mbps – and more.”
The obligation of local officials is to be proactive in facilitating the build out of wireless and wireline broadband networks, Wheeler said.
“Local officials with permitting authority have a special obligation to both their own communities and to the larger society,” he said. “If the infrastructure for both wired and wireless broadband networks doesn’t receive the prioritization that it warrants as a major national imperative, all the efforts to create faster, cheaper, better broadband service that will enhance our nation’s competiveness … will go for naught.”
The FCC will vote on a new set of federal policies aimed at streamlining the siting of wireless facilities at an Opening Meeting on Oct. 17, according to Wheeler.
Wheeler said the proposal will take concrete steps to “immediately and substantially ease the burdens associated with deploying wireless equipment,” particularly the collocations and deployments of small cells that can be installed “unobtrusively.”
It is believed that the Report and Order will be based on the rulemaking initiated in January 2013 to clarify Section 6409(a) of the tax act of 2012, which streamlines the deployment of certain wireless infrastructure. The legislation, which states that a locality “may not deny, and shall approve” a collocation request, has not yet been integrated into FCC regulations.
“At the FCC, we will use our authority to attack the broadband deployment challenge,” Wheeler said.
At the same time, Wheeler said he wants to preserve the frontline authority of local and tribal governments to determine which structures are appropriate for wireless deployment as well as the authority to enforce building codes and electrical codes and to require the use of concealment designs.
“You have the ability to develop national best practices that embrace strategies that have been shown to work in today’s technological and economic environments – strategies that embrace new technology and new ideas to facilitate the timely deployment of wired and wireless broadband,” he said. “We will work with you, so that national best practices are included in our “Agenda for Broadband Competition…the ABCs of consumer choice in the 21st century.’”
Jonathan Kramer, a municipal consultant with Telecom Law Firm, was cautious in his reaction to Wheeler’s speech.
“The chairman made clear that the commission sees an important continuing role for state, local and tribal governments to play in wireless tower siting, but it appears that that role will be somewhat less than has existed up to now: How much less will determine whether governments retain an important role, or feel that they have just been rolled,” Kramer said. “We’re all looking forward to October 17th when we learn how the Commission’s regulatory vision will, we hope, fairly balance the expedited deployment of wireless services with the preservation of important local community values.”