Seattle to challenge FCC claiming federal overreach
Last month the U.S. Federal Communications Commission passed an order meant to make it easier for operators to deploy small cells and other wireless infrastructure by superseding state- and local-level regulations. The regulatory body, which passed the rule change 3-1, characterized the order as meant to accelerate 5G investment so the U.S. can take a leadership position relate to China and reap the economic benefits of 5G supremacy.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 26 vote, city-level officials have come out against the FCC’s move with Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes, in a statement, describing the shift in regulatory oversight as “overreach by the Trump administration. Instead of expediting the deployment of high-speed internet of addressing digital inequity, the FCC’s actions impede local authority and will require cities to subsidize the wireless industry’s deployment for private gain, giving away public property without asking for anything in return.”
Primary tenets of the FCC’s order:
- Ban local regulations designed to prohibit wireless infrastructure deployment;
- Standardize the fee structure cities can charge for reviewing small cell projects;
- Establish a 60-day shot clock for attaching small cells to existing structures and 90 days for new builds;
- And set “modest guardrails on other municipal rules that may prohibit service.”
Ahead of the vote last month, Commissioner Brendan Carr worked to gain consensus from municipal-level leaders. “More than several dozen mayors, local officials, and state lawmakers have called on the FCC to streamline the rules governing small cell buildout,” Carr said in a statement. “They want the FCC to build on the commonsense reforms adopted in state legislatures and town councils across the country so that every community—from big city to small town—gets a fair shot at next-generation connectivity. As they put it, FCC action will help spur investment and infrastructure buildout in their communities, while helping the U.S. win the race to 5G. I am glad to see the support from this diverse group of state and local officials.”
City officials including Samir Saini, New York City’s chief information officer and commissioner with the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, addressed the issue prior to the vote in a piece published by Medium. Saini said the FCC vote “has the potential to affect the lives of millions of Americans.”
He wrote that “local control…for decades has empowered American municipalities — from our largest cities to the smallest towns — to ensure the spread of wireless service throughout our communities. In New York City, we use this local authority to steadily offer access to thousands of light poles to companies that install technology for carriers such as AT&T and Verizon. This can help improve wireless internet service, and sets the stage for superfast 5G deployment — and retains poles for our own public safety, traffic control, and other essential systems.”
With the new regime, Saini wrote, The FCC is pursuing “an illegal overstep of their authority. Congress has clearly assured cities control of local rights-of-way for wireless equipment. The courts have upheld this, and if the FCC proceeds otherwise, all Americans stand to gain are lawsuits and confusion, not enhanced wireless service.”
Tom Cochran, CEO of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said in a statement, “The FCC action misapplies federal law to federalize local public property as part of its efforts to bestow upon a class of private companies special rights to access local rights-of-way and public property.”
Cochran said the FCC “has embarked on an unprecedented federal intrusion into local (and state) government property rights that will have substantial and continuing adverse impacts on cities and their taxpayers, including reduced funding for essential local government services, and needlessly introduce increased risk of right-of-way and other public safety hazards.”
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