The FCC updated its over-the-air reception device (OTARD) rule to ensure that antennas used to distribute broadband fixed wireless services to multiple customer locations can be sited to support next-generation network deployment, including 5G. The latest rule will ensure the hub and relay wireless antennas fall under the same rule as other over-the-air reception devices, according to the agency.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), which sought the action, called the change “a major win” for WISPs and their customers that will reduce barriers to siting fixed wireless infrastructure. It will facilitate the placement of broadband-only “hubs” and “relay antennas” – pizza box-sized technology – on homes, multi-tenant buildings and vertical structures, according to the association.
“Whether you live in an apartment building, assisted living facility, or mobile home community, these devices might well be part of the solution to ensure you and your neighbors are connected to next generation fixed wireless networks by relaying wireless services throughout your community. Likewise, workplaces and event venues may benefit from such tools,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “As such, we have to ensure that local regulations don’t place unreasonable burdens on such devices.”
The Report and Order updates the Commission’s rule governing over-the-air reception devices to reflect recent trends in wireless networking and to accelerate the deployment of competitive fixed wireless services to consumers. The FCC has long prohibited certain state and local restrictions that it says unreasonably impair the ability of users to deploy small over-the-air reception devices on their own property, but the rule didn’t cover such devices if they were used primarily as hubs to distribute service to multiple customers. As developments in fixed wireless technology and network design have resulted in denser deployment of smaller antennas, fixed wireless providers have less flexibility in where they can locate hub and relay sites, noted the Commission.
Today’s networks are designed around smaller hubs placed closer to customers. The new rule closes a 20-year-old loophole which excluded hubs and similar infrastructure from OTARD’s preemption of local zoning and homeowners’ association restrictions, thwarting the rapid and cost-effective deployment of scalable networks which can reach the unserved.
“Many wireless networks depend on good lines of sight, and our members will use any safe structures to do that – that is, where they’re available,” said WISPA VP Policy Louis Peraertz. “The rule change vastly increases the ability of our members to use customer locations to serve additional nearby customers in areas that lack other vertical infrastructure.”
Peraertz added, “This narrow change in the rules will deliver an immense punch for those living in unserved and competition-free parts of the country.” He said it “supercharges” the fixed wireless broadband model of deployment, allowing the creation of powerful broadband networks in days, not years. “As COVID-19 has shown us, this is now more important than ever to achieve.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
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