“It’s been a wonderful ride and it’s time to move on,” said FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly Thursday as he prepared to wind up his time at the agency. He spoke to the press about a variety of topics, including his future plans and the status of Twilight Towers.
He wasn’t sure when the new GOP Commissioner, Nathan Simington, would be sworn-in, but would be “manning my post until the signal’s sent.”
The Commissioner of seven years said he hasn’t spent much time thinking about what comes next, preferring to focus on the job at hand. O’Rielly thought it “was better to end pretty clean and then spend a couple of months finding a landing spot.”
Inside Towers asked if he’d return to public service. It doesn’t seem likely. “After 27 years, I’ve done my time. I was willing to do more, but it was not in the cards,” he said. The Buffalo, NY native spent 20 years on Capitol Hill before coming to the FCC, and with two young children now, he said he’s “completely okay” with leaving public service, and “now it’s time to see life from the other side.”
The Commission passed two items he’s proud of yesterday, Rip & Replace rules (see story above) and modernizing RF device rules. Switching to regrets, he spoke of the inability to get relief for Twilight Tower co-location to the finish line. “At some point I was the lead” on that issue, however it “fell by the wayside.” That, he said, “causes me some heartburn.”
Inside Towers asked whether the agency could get to the issue in the New Year. O’Rielly said it’s a possibility. “It’s a lost opportunity because new towers will still be built” if telecoms can’t co-locate on existing towers,” he explained.
The issue concerns the status of nearly 5,000 towers. These are towers built between March 16, 2001, and March 7, 2005. They can’t accept additional antennas because either they were built without historic preservation review or don’t have documentation that such a review occurred. The Commission sought input from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). This October, ACHP said it needs more time to work out a resolution with the FCC.
Twilight towers remain a top issue for wireless infrastructure trade associations. The Wireless Infrastructure Association, NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association and CTIA all lobbied the Commission about it.
O’Rielly was working on the Hill when Congress passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act. It’s long been discussed as a law that needs updating. Asked about his thoughts, O’Rielly said much of the Act was meant to fix “things that were already broken.” The internet existed then, “but nobody knew what it would become,” such as “blowing away all POTS lines.” Overall, he said, “the market changed tremendously and the statute hasn’t kept up. I don’t think it recognizes current market conditions” and is due for updating again.
He thinks the Commission has become more political over time and predicts his former colleagues will be “more aggressive in the use of social media.” However that’s something that ebbs and flows over time, he noted.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
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