While many localities are processing tower modification requests in a timely manner as companies make upgrades, others are not. They say any structural changes mean a request is ineligible for streamlined processing. That’s why the Wireless Infrastructure Association asked the FCC in 2019, to clarify some elements of its section 6409 rule for streamlined modification application processing.
During a webinar Friday titled: “The FCC’s 5G Upgrade Order: What Does It Mean For You?” WIA Government Affairs Counsel John Howes said it was unclear when the 60-day shot clock began, if it starts when blueprints or plans are submitted, or after a health and safety review, for example.
Crown Castle Senior Attorney Tom Anderson said: “We needed clarity on what we have to do to get the 60-day shot clock started. Does it start after the first meeting, or when I turn in the form?” Having that spelled out in the FCC’s declaratory ruling is important, he explained. The ruling specifies the clock starts after taking the first procedural step required by the locality and submitting written documentation that a proposed modification is an Eligible Facilities Request (EFR).
The documentation required by jurisdictions is, or should be, “different from what they’d need for approval of a new tower. The tower is there,” said Anderson. The documentation is really to satisfy jurisdictions that this is an EFR, he added.
Concerning separation distance, the FCC clarified the 20 feet it references in section 6409 applies to separation between antenna arrays. It’s now 20 feet from the top of an existing antenna to the bottom of a proposed new antenna. Anderson pointed out the specificity is important because customers have different size antennas. “Height and signal propagation is a critical point of what is needed,” he said.
The agency clarified a “substantial” modification is a tower height increase of more than 10 percent or if the modification would defeat existing concealment elements. The ruling spells out that to defeat concealment, the “modification must cause a reasonable person to view the structure’s intended stealth design as no longer effective after the modification.”
“It’s helpful for us to know. What does it mean to defeat concealment?” Anderson asked rhetorically. By adding more antennas, a tower can still look like a monopine or a monopalm, for example.
Howes asked whether “shrubbery,” like the Monty Python reference in “Spamalot,” could be considered a concealment element. Anderson replied, “not all conditions on a site are concealment elements.” It’s generally included in site approvals that keeping up the landscaping is expected, he noted. “This clarification says that landscaping is not a concealment element,” Anderson explained.
Howes and WIA President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein asked members to file comments with the FCC on the agency’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on compound expansions. It would say that a modification of an existing facility that entails ground excavation or deployment of up to 30 feet “in any direction outside the facility’s site will be eligible for streamlined processing under section 6409[a].” This would allow for the placement of backup generators, which are critical for public safety. It also promotes 5G with the installation of new data centers and small cell hubs at the edge of a network, according to the WIA experts.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief