New Rules for New Wireless Networks

New Rules for New Wireless Networks

March 9, 2017

That device in your pocket, the one you carry with you everywhere, the one you turn around immediately for if forgotten on the kitchen counter—you may think of it as a phone. But today it’s so much more.

It’s a library, a travel agent, and a movie theater. It’s your bank, your car, and your fitness trainer. All that and more—the whole world—right in your hand. It’s pretty amazing what wireless companies have shrunk to fit in today’s mobile devices.

We’ve also been hard at work, shrinking another, less tangible but equally important, part of the mobile experience: wireless infrastructure.

SMALL CELLS AND OUR EVOLVING WIRELESS INFRASTRUCTURE.  We all recognize traditional wireless antennas when we see them—those towers hundreds of feet tall, often located along highways or on the roofs of tall buildings. These antennas are called macro cells.

Today, there are roughly 150,000 towers across the country that carry the signal of your tweet, text, or phone call.  Antennas can send these signals for miles, and they’re responsible for wireless consumers experiencing unparalleled 4G access that covers 99.7% of Americans.  

Now, thanks to our engineers, wireless radios and antennas are getting smaller. Much smaller actually, the size of a pizza or lunch box, located inconspicuously on traffic signals or streetlights. And because Americans use more and more wireless data every year, these antennas—called small cells—are built to handle much more data today as well as new 5G applications and services. 

Given their smaller size, lower height, and the spectrum many of these small cells will use, their wireless signals travel shorter distances—hundreds of meters, not miles. That means we need more, hundreds of thousands of more across the country in the next few years—almost double the number of towers built over the last three decades in fact.  

NEW RULES TO DRIVE BILLIONS IN NEW INVESTMENT.  We want to invest tens of billions of dollars in these new small cell networks to augment today’s 4G networks and enable 5G, the next generation of wireless that will unlock smart city benefits and the Internet of Things.

But many local rules and regulations governing these antennas—where they can go, how long it takes to install them, and how much it costs—are remnants from 20 or 30 years ago, when 200-foot tall cell towers miles apart were the norm.

We need new rules for new wireless networks. Yet, as we told the FCC today, some communities “are imposing higher barriers, more burdensome regulations, and higher charges” that “delay, discourage, or outright block” small cells and other wireless infrastructure.

From denying all small cell permit applications outright or requiring wireless equipment to be placed underground (think about it for a moment) to demanding exorbitant fees for Rights-of-Way access or imposing lengthy waiting periods, we detail the types of barriers to better mobile broadband—barriers imposed by some local municipalities right now.

If you want to grow America’s economy, this matters. Because we’re standing on the verge of 5G, and if municipalities get their infrastructure rules right, 5G will create three million new jobs across the country and boost our economy by $500 billion annually.

If you’re a consumer relying more on wireless every day, this matters. Because the data traveling over wireless networks is projected to increase five-fold by 2021, and small cells will be instrumental in helping meet that new demand. 


If you’re the mayor or on the town council, this matters. Because communities are expected to see $160 billion in benefits and savings through wireless-powered smart city solutions relying on 5G delivered by small cells.

That’s why states like Virginia, Kansas, and Ohio, embracing the economic benefits that will flow from 5G leadership, have adopted legislation streamlining small cell deployments in the past year.  And that’s why today we’ve asked the FCC to partner with localities and remove the barriers to wireless infrastructure, as Congress intended and instructed.  

Cities and towns have legitimate needs and costs to recover, of course—and these reforms recognize that fact. But they also ensure that local fees and procedures enable the necessary building blocks of tomorrow’s wireless networks.

KEY REFORMS TO UNLOCK WIRELESS INVESTMENT AND INNOVATION.  Earlier this year, we applauded FCC Chairman Pai for creating an advisory committee tasked with accelerating broadband deployment. In our filing today, we suggested a number of additional concrete steps the FCC can take, calling on the agency to:

  1. prohibit wireless infrastructure moratoria, which block any new wireless deployments,
  2. proscribe underground facility mandates or technology upgrade prohibitions that inhibit wireless solutions,
  3. outlaw excessive or unfair fees for rights-of-way access that would raise the costs of 5G to Americans,
  4. establish and harmonize “shot clocks” for localities to provide greater certainty and timetables for investment, and
  5. declare that, given their minimal footprint and impact, small cells do not require lengthy federal environmental or historic preservation reviews.

These are common-sense reforms, consistent with Congress’ directive to achieve our national broadband objectives in a manner that respects the prerogatives of local governments.

These reforms would also materially impact 5G investment.  America’s wireless industry has a long track record of investing—more than $200 billion over the last seven years alone. As we look to 5G, we’re projected to invest another $275 billion across the country if local, state, and federal regulations are modernized to support these new antennas.

That makes our ask of the FCC straightforward: help us unlock those investment dollars. Prompt Commission action and guidance to speed small cell deployments would go a long way toward a better wireless future for everyone.


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