House Energy & Commerce Committee lawmakers are bickering over the FCC’s planned vote next week on the 5G upgrade plan. Republicans praise the effort aimed at giving industry certainty over timelines and lower costs for existing tower site upgrades. However, Democrats say local governments tell them the agency is rushing an item during the pandemic that will limit local governments’ role in the deployment of wireless infrastructure. The disagreement matters because lawmakers have jurisdiction over the agency.
Twenty-four Democratic Committee members sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging him to delay the planned June 9 vote. “The Declaratory Ruling would grant companies the right to expand existing cell sites without any regard to local processes and potential conflicting priorities, which would be especially harmful right now given the ongoing challenges that local governments face due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” they say.
“We are especially troubled by the burden responding to this Declaratory Ruling will place on local governments that are rightfully focused right now on combating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote. “Likewise, we worry that if this Declaratory Ruling does not benefit from meaningful input from local governments, the result could undermine municipalities’ ability to balance their responsibilities to public safety and community design with their desire to ensure access to affordable wireless networks and the next generation services.”
Pai designated Commissioner Brendan Carr to take the lead on the issue, first sparked last year by requests from the Wireless Infrastructure Association and CTIA for more certainty over upgrades. Carr told Inside Towers in an interview last week the changes will make it “easier to add 5G antennas to an existing site,” and to “make sure antennas go up efficiently.”
The FCC implemented rules to ease swapping out 3G for 4G antennas in 2014. Now, the Commission intends to update them again to make 5G modification approvals faster. “If someone wants to swap out an antenna this is the right track. We’re making it efficient to preserve a state/local review process,” Carr explained.
He said some localities agree with the changes, while others don’t. Carr’s Democratic colleague Geoffrey Starks, meanwhile, backs a delay. “Cities across the nation are stretched to the limit addressing #COVID19 and protests. They’ve asked for more time to review an @FCC proposal that they first saw 2 weeks ago. It’s a reasonable request and I support it,” he tweeted.
Nearly two dozen Republican lawmakers on the committee back Carr’s plan. They wrote a letter to Pai as well, stating: “As the wireless industry continues to make upgrades to its networks, promote competition, and roll out new 5G services, this Order marks the next major step that the Commission can take to promote broadband buildout across our great country.” They urged the Commission to vote on the item, noting “Reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens to promote broadband deployment” is a top congressional priority.
The GOP lawmakers explained: “Section 6409(a) of SPECTRUM Act provides that co-locating new antennas and replacing or removing older antennas are non-substantial changes that should not require the same reviews as building new towers. The goal of the SPECTRUM Act was to ensure that these non-substantial changes would have streamlined processes for approval.”
The Dems’ letter was signed by:
Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (PA), Representatives Anna Eshoo (CA), Bobby Rush (IL), Eliot Engel (NY), Diana DeGette (CO), Jan Schakowsky (IL), G.K. Butterfield (NC), Doris Matsui (CA), Kathy Castor (FL), Jerry McNerney (CA), Peter Welch (VT), Ben Ray Luján (NM), Paul Tonko (NY), Yvette D. Clarke (NY), Dave Loebsack (IA), Joe Kennedy III (MA), Tony Cárdenas (CA), Debbie Dingell (MI), Marc Veasey (TX), Robin Kelly (IL), A. Donald McEachin (VA), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE) and Darren Soto (FL).
The GOP’s letter was signed by:
Representatives Greg Walden (OR), Robert E. Latta (OH), Fred Upton (MI), John Shimkus (IL), Michael C. Burgess M.D. (TX), Steve Scalise (LA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), Brett Guthrie (KY), Pete Olson (TX), David B. McKinley (WV), Adam Kinzinger (IL), H. Morgan Griffith (VA), Gus M. Bilirakis (FL), Bill Johnson (OH), Billy Long (MO), Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN), Bill Flores (TX), Susan W. Brooks (IN), Markwayne Mullin (OK), Richard Hudson (NC), Tim Walberg (MI), Earl L. ‘Buddy’ Carter (GA), and Jeff Duncan (SC).
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