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Blog

Blog

March 22, 2018

FCC Infrastructure Reform Jumpstarts 5G Deployment .

Scott Bergmann
Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs

Today is a good day for America’s 5G future.

The FCC took a key step to remove barriers to wireless deployment and accelerate U.S. 5G efforts and investment.

Specifically, the agency streamlined environmental and historic preservation reviews designed for large cell towers. That’s important because these rules don’t make sense for modern wireless infrastructure, like small cells.

It can take about an hour or two to install a small cell that’s roughly the size of a pizza box on a streetlight or utility pole, but it can take a year or more to get the necessary permits thanks to rules designed for 200-foot cell towers.

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Modern wireless infrastructure like small cells can often be installed in about an hour or two. Yet it can cost thousands of dollars in fees and take more than a year to get government approval. That’s because many rules, regulations, and fees for wireless infrastructure applications are outdated, put in place when 200-foot tall cell towers were the norm. We need new rules for new networks.

In fact, Accenture found that almost a third of the cost of next-generation wireless deployments go to federal reviews that the FCC modernized today. Accenture projects reforms like those the FCC adopted could bring $1.6 billion in savings and help jumpstart 5G deployment.

Since we’re looking at installing 800,000 small cells in the next few years—a 550% increase this year alone—to make 5G a reality, the vote today will have a real impact on wireless providers’ ability to bring these next-generation networks to communities across the country.

The FCC has already stated that small cells have little or no impact on environmentally sensitive or historic sites. Eliminating unnecessary reviews will mean tremendous time and cost savings that will spur job creation and boost network investment, without impacting the environment or historic properties, as reviews will still happen when appropriate.

As Commissioner Brendan Carr, who led this reform effort at the FCC, said, “Winning the [5G] race will mean more broadband for more Americans, and mean new opportunities for unserved and underserved communities, and mean unleashing the next wave of American innovation.”

The core components of the FCC’s action today include:

  • Declaring that small cell deployments are not federal “undertakings” under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) or “major federal actions” under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This recognizes that small cells have a much smaller footprint than traditional wireless facilities, and treats small cells the same as other similar kinds of infrastructure, like Wi-Fi hot spots.
  • Modernizing the NHPA Tribal review process—like setting finite timelines and clarifying when fees are appropriate—for all wireless facility projects outside of Tribal lands. This brings the FCC’s process in line with long-standing guidance from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and addresses an escalating cost driver on wireless deployments.
  • Removing duplicative requirements for filing environmental assessments and establishing reasonable shot clocks for FCC action to better target reviews and reduce unnecessary delays.

To unlock the full potential of 5G—$275 billion in industry investment, 3 million jobs, and $500 billion in economic growth—more efforts are needed at all levels of government. That means continued focus at the federal, state, and local levels to modernize rules to support 5G networks with reasonable timelines and cost-based fees.

We’re the world’s most innovative wireless market, and these reforms will help us keep that distinction—and win the global race to 5G.

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