Background: Our society is in the midst of a technological revolution with regard to broadband infrastructure deployment, particularly for data-intensive wireless services. Demand for wireless capacity is increasing: more consumers are accessing mobile broadband every year, driving more innovation and expanding access to public safety. But our ability to meet this demand depends on the infrastructure that supports the services. For this reason, in 2014 the Commission adopted a Wireless Infrastructure Report and Order https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/FCC-14-153A1_Rcd.pdf that takes steps to further promote deployment of the wireless infrastructure necessary to provide the public with ubiquitous, advanced wireless broadband services.
The Report and Order updated the manner in which the Commission evaluates the impact of proposed deployments on the environment and historic properties. The Commission’s environmental review procedures had excluded collocations of antennas from most of the requirements, recognizing the benefits of using existing structures over constructing new ones. In order to facilitate faster deployment of wireless infrastructure, the rules now expand that categorical exclusion to include: equipment associated with the antennas (such as wires, cables, and backup-power equipment), certain deployments on existing utility poles and electric transmission towers, and collocations within a building.
The Report and Order also expanded the situations in which small antennas collocated on existing structures are excluded from historic preservation review. A 2016 agreement with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers further streamlined this review for small facility deployments.
The rules were crafted to spur greater deployment of new technologies, such as small cells and distributed antenna systems, which multiply wireless capacity within existing spectrum resources. Small cells are low-powered radio access nodes that operate in licensed and unlicensed spectrum with a range of 10 meters to 1 or 2 kilometers and can be deployed relatively easily on utility poles, street lamps, water towers, or rooftops.
State and Local Governments
The rules clarify and implement federal statutory directives that are intended to make State and local review more efficient for wireless deployments and modifications while preserving the Commission’s commitment to safeguard the essential roles that State, local, and Tribal governments play in this process.
To provide certainty and encourage efficient review, the FCC has adopted “shot clocks” that establish time frames within which State and local governments must complete their reviews. The shot clocks, which implement federal statutes, generally provide more time to review large-scale projects that may have comparatively large impacts and less time for collocations or modifications to existing deployments.
The rules preserve local governments’ authority to adopt and apply the zoning, safety, and concealment requirements that are appropriate for their communities. The 2014 Wireless Infrastructure Report and Order linked in the first paragraph of this Spotlight provides a description of the various shot clock rules in paras. 205-221 and 253-284.
If an antenna structure (1) will be in place for 60 days or less; (2) requires notice of construction to the FAA; (3) does not require marking or lighting under FAA regulations; (4) will be less than 200 feet above ground level; and (5) will involve minimal or no ground excavation, then the owner of the tower does not need to provide 30 days of national and local notice to give members of the public an opportunity to comment on the proposed tower’s potential environmental effect.
Streamlining Deployment of Small Cell Infrastructure by Improving Wireless Facilities Siting Policies
On December 22, 2016 the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau issued a Public Notice inviting public input on potential Commission actions to help expedite the deployment of next generation wireless infrastructure by providing guidance on how federal law applies to local government review of wireless facility siting applications and local requirements for gaining access to rights of way.
An overview of the FCC’s Rules and Policies on Tower and Antenna Siting is available here.