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FCC’s Rosenworcel Slams Spread of Fictional Stories of Cities Impeding 5G

Phillip Dampier June 12, 2018 Public Policy & Gov't, Wireless Broadband No Comments

Rosenworcel

Using “stitched-together” stories and caricature, lobbyists are finding an audience among Republican members of the Federal Communications Commission eager to sweep away local control of broadband infrastructure to allow wireless companies to locate equipment almost anywhere they want.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel warned attendees at the 86th annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors that the ability of local communities to control what equipment ends up on municipally owned light and utility poles is at risk:

In our first city—which happens to be a fictional one—public infrastructure is dated. The city needs better broadband and wireless services. But city officials view improvements skeptically. They lack the policies and processes needed to clear the way for the deployment of fiber facilities, wireless towers, and small cells—all of which are essential digital age infrastructure. They delay applications for facilities siting. They charge big fees for access to municipal poles. And get this, these bad actors have the audacity to have public safety and aesthetic concerns.

Like I said, this city is fictional. It’s a caricature based on some outliers and stitched-together stories. But this city is the one dominating discussion in Washington. It’s unfortunately shaping the debate where I work—at the Federal Communications Commission. It’s animating our discussions about broadband deployment and how we ensure the next generation of wireless broadband known as 5G reaches everyone, everywhere. This narrative is priming the pump for Washington preempting cities and towns and preventing them from having a role in what is happening in their own backyards.

The wireless industry is backing a number of state measures that severely restrict local control and decision-making powers over wireless infrastructure and its placement. The coordinated campaign has relied heavily on dubious stories of local communities arbitrarily rejecting wireless infrastructure upgrades or seeking huge amounts of money in return for permission to place equipment on community-owned utility poles or street lights:

The telecommunications industry has stacked the deck on many levels of the debate over how much control local municipalities should have over locations for cell towers, small cells, backup battery cabinets, and other infrastructure, claiming cities want to extort confiscatory pole attachment fees, drag their feet on permitting, and impose arbitrary rules that delay the deployment of wireless upgrades.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) is heavily packed with telecom industry insiders and lobbyists. Only a small handful of members are local public officials. As a result, the industry-stacked committee quickly identified local communities as one of the biggest impediments of next generation broadband services like 5G, and prioritized recommendations for new policies designed to deregulate the process in favor of providers.

The Republican FCC chairman and commissioners frequently characterize this issue as ‘old rules’ getting in the way of new technology, like 5G, necessitating regulatory reform.

State lawmakers, often relying on information packages assembled by telecommunications companies, have introduced industry-drafted model bills dramatically curtailing local control over equipment placement and pole attachment pricing. In states like Tennessee, the debate was framed as an either/or choice of Tennessee receiving advanced 5G investment and deployment or watching companies choose more industry-friendly states for 5G services.

Rosenworcel acknowledged San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who resigned from BDAC after complaining it was heavily biased in favor of telecommunications companies. She praised Liccardo for independently streamlining provider access to poles for future 5G service with fair pricing and for developing new digital inclusion projects that will funnel some provider compensation into programs designed to achieve broader adoption of broadband services by the public.

For Rosenworcel, the fastest and most resilient way to broadband deployment is with a community on board.

“That’s because picking fights with cities and states promises to yield little more than a fast trip to the courts. It’s already happening with the FCC’s effort to redefine “federal actions” under the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act,” Rosenworcel said.

Rosenworcel recommends the FCC develop a new framework that spends less time on the lobbyists’ talking points and scare stories and instead relies on common sense cooperative coordination between companies, the FCC, and local communities.

“We can begin by developing model codes for small cell and 5G deployment—but we need to make sure they are supported by a wide range of industry and state and local officials,” Rosenworcel said. “Then we need to review every infrastructure grant program at the Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Transportation and build in incentives to use this model. In the process, we can build a more common set of practices nationwide. But to do so, we would use carrots instead of sticks.”

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