The FCC’s 5G upgrade order intended for a June vote continues a multi-year effort by Congress and the FCC to eliminate needless tower upgrade delays. In 2012, Congress required local governments to approve modifications to wireless infrastructure that don’t substantially change tower or base station size. These modifications—taking off old equipment and putting on new equipment—were understood to be crucial to upgrading wireless capacity and improving service, according to the Commission.
In 2014, the FCC wrote rules to implement the law, helping wireless companies roll out 4G services. Since that time, some of the rules have proved ambiguous, creating disagreements between telecoms and localities trying to follow them.
Wireless Infrastructure Association President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein explained: “At Connect (X): All Access today, WIA offered a virtual standing ovation to Commissioner Carr for announcing FCC plans to clarify its rules to promote network upgrades on existing towers and other wireless sites. WIA has advocated for streamlining co-location because our members are seeing that, in some cases, Congress’ goal of making it easier to co-locate equipment on existing wireless sites is being stymied in practice.”
“5G deployment requires a massive amount of additional co-location for network upgrades and expansion. The FCC’s action will strengthen competition, support FirstNet and public safety, improve wireless in rural and underserved areas, and increase the resiliency of our wireless networks,” continued Adelstein.
“Getting this right, implementing the decisions that Congress made in Section 6409 has taken on new urgency. That’s because we’re in the midst of a series of critical wireless upgrades,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. “We’re in the midst of an upgrade to 5G. We’re also in the midst of an upgrade for first responders. And we’re in the midst of an upgrade for competition. In the midst of all these critical upgrades, we need to upgrade our rules. And so, I’m pleased to tell you that three weeks from today the FCC will vote for the upgrade. I call it our 5G Upgrade Order.”
The 5G upgrade order clarifies the FCC’s 2014 rules by:
- Explaining when the 60-day shot clock for local approval begins
- Specifying what new equipment qualifies for streamlined approval
- Clarifying how local governments’ concealment and aesthetic conditions of approval apply
- Asking for public comment on what activity related to a modification can occur outside of a wireless site.
Some local leaders and wireless builders hailed the announcement of Commissioner Brendan Carr’s order. “Upgrading sites to 5G is something our tower crews do every day, and this regulatory relief will allow our teams to install next-gen connections in even more communities,” said Vikor Teleconstruction CEO Craig Snyder.
“Here in Cheyenne, we’ve invested in towers. We’ve invested in those significant infrastructure projects. That’s because broadband access is critical to our police, fire, those 911 calls,” said Cheyenne, Wyoming Mayor Marian Orr. She said broadband is also vital to file for unemployment, as well as find a new job.
“Commissioner Carr’s proposal will advance the long-standing bipartisan consensus to give wireless providers greater flexibility to rapidly upgrade existing facilities with next-generation infrastructure critical to American leadership in the emerging 5G economy,” said CTIA President/CEO Meredith Attwell Baker.
NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, applauded the action on behalf of its over 980 member companies that enable wireless connectivity. “The measures outlined in Commissioner Carr’s 5G upgrade order will serve to help scale 5G in the country and allow more communities, enterprises and citizens to experience the benefits of next-generation wireless technology,” said NATE President/ CEO Todd Schlekeway.
The Competitive Carriers Association praised the move too. CCA President/CEO Steve Berry said: “Infrastructure is the backbone of wireless networks, and streamlining burdensome, unnecessary processes will greatly benefit carriers wishing to enhance and expand their networks. Ultimately, consumers stand to be the real winners, and I commend the Commission for its plan to consider further reform at its upcoming meeting.”