FCC under fire from US cities over tough 5G regulations

27 Sep 2018

Image: kriang phromphim/Shutterstock

The FCC passed new 5G deployment rules that have come under criticism from cities in the US.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is keen to deploy 5G networks across the US, and an order it adopted yesterday (26 September) is a major part of this strategy.

The installation of 5G networks is a more complex process than other network-building projects, as it requires thousands of small wireless installations. This means that carriers will need to apply to city authorities for access to new buildings and areas to build adequate facilities.

In response to the perceived red tape put in place by city governments in the US, the FCC voted to adopt the order Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment. This will now subject state wireless regulators to the authority of the FCC.

5G application speed to increase

The FCC wants to standardise new, shorter ‘shot clocks’ for local governments to respond to planning applications from wireless companies. The governments will now have 60 days to respond for existing locations and 90 for new ones. While this may help speed up deployment, some cities say it leaves them short on time. They say that they need more time to review the proposals for safety and aesthetic reasons, among others.

Another new rule will see fees for applications and right-of-way paperwork standardised. One application for up to five installations or facilities will be $500, with an extra $100 for additional facilities and $270 per facility, per year, all-inclusive. The mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, said that the annual fee of $270 in particular is “unconscionable” when the facility may make profits.

San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo said: “By limiting the amount of fees, the FCC is unfairly shifting the financial burden to cities. Cities will be forced to absorb the true cost of reviewing the small-cell installations by taking funds away from essential services and programmes to cover the costs to perform small-cell deployment reviews.”

Closing the digital divide

“Streamlining small-cell rules will help close the digital divide by making it cost-effective for the private sector to provide coverage in more rural places,” said commissioner Brendan Carr, who led the effort to reform the rules. “We win the race to 5G not when New York or San Francisco get 5G coverage, but when all Americans – regardless of where they live – have a fair shot at next-gen access.”

The FCC’s sole Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel, criticised her fellow commissioners for not collaborating enough with local governments. She said: “Instead of working with our state and local partners to speed the way to 5G deployment, we cut them out.”

She added: “I do not believe the law permits Washington to run roughshod over state and local authority like this. And I worry the litigation that follows will only slow our 5G future.” While she is in favour of the shortened review times, she opposes the restrictions the FCC puts on how cities can review the applications.

Proponents of the new rules said the volume of deployments need the standardised rules to work efficiently, and the FCC said the changes will save $2bn in costs, which will lead to further buildout and more rural deployment.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects