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Local Review of Collocation Applications, Interpretive Guidance

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Released: January 25, 2013

PUBLIC NOTICE

Federal Communications Commission

News Media Information 202 / 418-0500

445 12th St., S.W.

Internet: http://www.fcc.gov

Washington, D.C. 20554

TTY: 1-888-835-5322

WIRELESS TELECOMMUNICATIONS BUREAU OFFERS GUIDANCE ON

INTERPRETATION OF SECTION 6409(a) OF THE MIDDLE CLASS TAX RELIEF AND

JOB CREATION ACT OF 2012


DA 12-2047

January 25, 2013

On February 22, 2012, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Tax Act)1 became law.
Section 6409(a) of the Tax Act provides that a state or local government “may not deny, and shall
approve” any request for collocation, removal, or replacement of transmission equipment on an existing
wireless tower or base station, provided this action does not substantially change the physical dimensions
of the tower or base station.2 The full text of Section 6409(a) is reproduced in the Appendix to this Public
Notice.
To date, the Commission has not received any formal petition to interpret or apply the provisions of
Section 6409(a). We also are unaware of any judicial precedent interpreting or applying its terms. The
Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has, however, received informal inquiries from service providers,
facilities owners, and state and local governments seeking guidance as to how Section 6409(a) should be
applied. In order to assist interested parties, this Public Notice summarizes the Bureau’s understanding of
Section 6409(a) in response to several of the most frequently asked questions.3

What does it mean to “substantially change the physical dimensions” of a tower or base station?

Section 6409(a) does not define what constitutes a “substantial[] change” in the dimensions of a tower or
base station. In a similar context, under the Nationwide Collocation Agreement with the Advisory
Council on Historic Preservation and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, the
Commission has applied a four-prong test to determine whether a collocation will effect a “substantial
increase in the size of [a] tower.”4 A proposed collocation that does not involve a substantial increase in


1 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, Pub. L. 112-96, H.R. 3630, 126 Stat. 156 (enacted Feb. 22,
2012) (Tax Act).
2 Id., § 6409(a).
3 Although we offer this interpretive guidance to assist parties in understanding their obligations under Section
6409(c), see, e.g., Truckers United for Safety v. Federal Highway Administration, 139 F.3d 934 (D.C.Cir. 1998), the
Commission remains free to exercise its discretion to interpret Section 6409(a) either by exercising its rulemaking
authority or through adjudication. With two exceptions not relevant here, the Tax Act expressly grants the
Commission authority to “implement and enforce” this and other provisions of Title VI of that Act “as if this title is
a part of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 151 et seq.).” Tax Act § 6003.
4 47 C.F.R. Part 1, App. B, Nationwide Programmatic Agreement for the Collocation of Wireless Antennas, § I.C
(Nationwide Collocation Agreement).

size is ordinarily excluded from the Commission’s required historic preservation review under Section
106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).5 The Commission later adopted the same
definition in the 2009 Declaratory Ruling to determine whether an application will be treated as a
collocation when applying Section 332(c)(7) of the Communications Act of 1934.6 The Commission has
also applied a similar definition to determine whether a modification of an existing registered tower
requires public notice for purposes of environmental review.7
Under Section I.C of the Nationwide Collocation Agreement, a “substantial increase in the size of the
tower” occurs if:
1) [t]he mounting of the proposed antenna on the tower would increase the existing height of
the tower by more than 10%, or by the height of one additional antenna array with separation
from the nearest existing antenna not to exceed twenty feet, whichever is greater, except that
the mounting of the proposed antenna may exceed the size limits set forth in this paragraph
if necessary to avoid interference with existing antennas; or
2) [t]he mounting of the proposed antenna would involve the installation of more than the
standard number of new equipment cabinets for the technology involved, not to exceed four,
or more than one new equipment shelter; or
3) [t]he mounting of the proposed antenna would involve adding an appurtenance to the
body of the tower that would protrude from the edge of the tower more than twenty feet, or
more than the width of the tower structure at the level of the appurtenance, whichever is
greater, except that the mounting of the proposed antenna may exceed the size limits set
forth in this paragraph if necessary to shelter the antenna from inclement weather or to
connect the antenna to the tower via cable; or
4) [t]he mounting of the proposed antenna would involve excavation outside the current
tower site, defined as the current boundaries of the leased or owned property surrounding the
tower and any access or utility easements currently related to the site.
Although Congress did not adopt the Commission’s terminology of “substantial increase in size” in
Section 6409(a), we believe that the policy reasons for excluding from Section 6409(a) collocations that
substantially change the physical dimensions of a structure are closely analogous to those that animated
the Commission in the Nationwide Collocation Agreement and subsequent proceedings. In light of the
Commission’s prior findings, the Bureau believes it is appropriate to look to the existing definition of
“substantial increase in size” to determine whether the collocation, removal, or replacement of equipment


5 See 16 U.S.C. § 470f, see also 47 C.F.R. § 1.1307(a)(4) (requiring applicants to determine whether proposed
facilities may affect properties that are listed, or are eligible for listing, in the National Register of Historic Places).
6 See Petition for Declaratory Ruling to Clarify Provisions of Section 332(c)(7)(B) to Ensure Timely Siting Review
and to Preempt Under Section 253 State and Local Ordinances that Classify All Wireless Siting Proposals as
Requiring a Variance, WT Docket No. 08-165, Declaratory Ruling, 24 FCC Rcd. 13994, 14012, para. 46 & n.146
(2009) (2009 Declaratory Ruling), recon. denied, 25 FCC Rcd. 11157 (2010), pet. for review denied sub nom. City
of Arlington, Texas v. FCC
, 668 F.3d 229 (5th Cir.), cert. granted, 113 S.Ct. 524 (2012); 47 U.S.C. § 332(c)(7).
7 See 47 C.F.R. § 17.4(c)(1)(B); National Environmental Policy Act Compliance for Proposed Tower Registrations,
WT Docket No. 08-61, Order on Remand, 26 FCC Rcd. 16700, 16720-21, para. 53 (2011).
2

on a wireless tower or base station substantially changes the physical dimensions of the underlying
structure within the meaning of Section 6409(a).

What is a “wireless tower or base station”?

A “tower” is defined in the Nationwide Collocation Agreement as “any structure built for the sole or
primary purpose of supporting FCC-licensed antennas and their associated facilities.”8 The Commission
has described a “base station” as consisting of “radio transceivers, antennas, coaxial cable, a regular and
backup power supply, and other associated electronics.”9 Section 6409(a) applies to the collocation,
removal, or replacement of equipment on a wireless tower or base station. In this context, we believe it is
reasonable to interpret a “base station” to include a structure that currently supports or houses an antenna,
transceiver, or other associated equipment that constitutes part of a base station.10 Moreover, given the
absence of any limiting statutory language, we believe a “base station” encompasses such equipment in
any technological configuration, including distributed antenna systems and small cells.
Section 6409(a) by its terms applies to any “wireless” tower or base station. By contrast, the scope of
Section 332(c)(7) extends only to facilities used for “personal wireless services” as defined in that
section.11 Given Congress’s decision not to use the pre-existing definition from another statutory
provision relating to wireless siting, we believe the scope of a “wireless” tower or base station under
Section 6409(a) is not intended to be limited to facilities that support “personal wireless services” under
Section 332(c)(7).

May a state or local government require an application for an action covered under Section
6409(a)?

Section 6409(a) states that a state or local government “may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible
facilities request….” It does not say that a state or local government may not require an application to be
filed. The provision that a state or local government must approve and may not deny a request to take a
covered action, in the Bureau’s view, implies that the relevant government entity may require the filing of
an application for administrative approval.


8 See Nationwide Collocation Agreement, § I.B.
9 See Implementation of Section 6002(b) of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, WT Docket No. 10-
133, Annual Report and Analysis of Competitive Market Conditions With Respect to Mobile Wireless, Including
Commercial Mobile Services, Fifteenth Report,
26 FCC Rcd. 9664, 9481, para. 308 (2011).
10 See also 47 C.F.R. Part 1, App. C, Nationwide Programmatic Agreement Regarding the Section 106 National
Historic Preservation Act Review Process, § II.A.14 (defining “tower” to include “the on-site fencing, equipment,
switches, wiring, cabling, power sources, shelters, or cabinets associated with that Tower but not installed as part of
an Antenna as defined herein”).
11 47 U.S.C. § 332(c)(7)(A). “Personal wireless services” is in turn defined to mean “commercial mobile services,
unlicensed wireless services, and common carrier wireless exchange access services.” Id. § 332(c)(7)(C)(1).
3

Is there a time limit within which an application must be approved?

Section 6409(a) does not specify any period of time for approving an application. However, the statute
clearly contemplates an administrative process that invariably ends in approval of a covered application.
We believe the time period for processing these applications should be commensurate with the nature of
the review.
In the 2009 Declaratory Ruling, the Commission found that 90 days is a presumptively reasonable period
of time to process collocation applications.12 In light of the requirement of Section 6409(a) that the
reviewing authority “may not deny, and shall approve” a covered request, we believe that 90 days should
be the maximum presumptively reasonable period of time for reviewing such applications, whether for
“personal wireless services” or other wireless facilities.
Wireless Telecommunications Bureau contact: Maria Kirby at (202) 418-1476 or by email:
Maria.Kirby@fcc.gov.
-FCC-
For more news and information about the Federal Communications Commission
please visit: www.fcc.gov


12 See 2009 Declaratory Ruling, 24 FCC Rcd. at 14012-13, paras. 46-47.
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APPENDIX

SEC. 6409. WIRELESS FACILITIES DEPLOYMENT.

(a) FACILITY MODIFICATIONS.
(1) IN GENERAL. Notwithstanding section 704 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Public Law
104–104) or any other provision of law, a State or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any
eligible facilities 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.
(2) ELIGIBLE FACILITIES REQUEST. For purposes of this subsection, the term ‘‘eligible facilities
request’’ means any request for modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that involves —
(A) collocation of new transmission equipment;
(B) removal of transmission equipment; or
(C) replacement of transmission equipment.
(3) APPLICABILITY OF ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS. Nothing in paragraph (1) shall be construed to
relieve the Commission from the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act or the National
Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
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