The FCC has done a great job in streamlining the siting process for small cells, according to the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), and the organization has urged the Commission to do something similar to remove state and local barriers for macro towers. For the past year, the WIA has been working towards this goal, WIA President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein tells Inside Towers in an interview. “We believe we’re getting traction now,” he said, especially with Commissioners Brendan Carr, Michael O’Rielly and Chairman Ajit Pai.
Adelstein listed instances in which WIA member towercos, carriers, and infrastructure firms have run into roadblocks thrown up by some localities to retrofitting macro towers with 5G infrastructure. Some municipalities “are evading and trying to find workarounds” in complying section 6409 of the Spectrum Act, which is designed to facilitate co-location on wireless infrastructure. Section 6409 is explicit in that it grants the FCC authority to permit co-location, according to Adelstein.
A big roadblock some WIA members are running into concern compound expansions. WIA wants the agency to clarify the terms in Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act. For example, compound expansions, specifically excavation within 30 feet of a tower site and that do not otherwise constitute substantial changes, should qualify for relief under section 6409(a). “These clarifications would greatly aid in expediting and reducing the costs of the 5G rollout as compound expansions are needed for data centers at the edge,” the association recently told the Commission.
The 2014 Order stated that the rules implementing Section 6409 did not inhibit the ability of localities, “to enforce and condition approval on compliance with generally applicable building, structural, electrical, and safety codes and with other laws codifying objective standards reasonably related to health and safety.” WIA says: “However, in some cases, this has emboldened some localities to claim – erroneously – that Section 6409 and the related shot clock do not apply to numerous approvals such as building permits and zoning authorizations, but these are necessary for our members to begin deploying infrastructure.”
The shot clocks the agency developed from that section do not apply to building permits for new or replacement equipment, according to Adelstein. WIA would like the Commission to clarify that. “We’re saying the shot clock should start at the beginning of the [application] process” and not be repeatedly delayed, he said.
Regarding concealment, some localities are claiming that anything that touches a concealed tower “automatically waives” Section 6409. “They’re mis-interpreting that,” said Adelstein. “We’re saying don’t let localities use concealment as an excuse to evade 6409.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief
August 21, 2019