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FCC 5G ruling tries to speed up small cell deployments in cities

The Federal Communications Commission has ordered cities to move faster in deciding on small cell deployments. Telecom firms praise the new FCC 5G rules while cities denounce them.

The Federal Communications Commission has ordered states and cities to move faster in deciding whether to approve the installation of 5G small cells, siding with telecom companies racing to build the next generation of high-speed wireless networks.

Cities are in less of a rush to have 5G networks than the wireless industry, which wants to start rolling out revenue-generating services as soon as possible to start recouping the billions of dollars already spent on infrastructure. The FCC 5G rules, issued this week, showed the commission agreed that local and state governments were moving too slow.

Per the rules,  cities and states have to approve or reject the addition of small cells on preexisting structures, such as utility poles and streetlights, within 60 days, and on new structures within 90 days.  

Also, the commission decided that state and local governments could not charge fees higher than the "'reasonable approximation of objectively reasonable costs" for processing applications and managing the deployments.

Overall, the FCC 5G rules would shave $2 billion in unnecessary costs for the wireless industry, the commission said.

Small cells contain the radio transmitters that send and receive data over a 5G wireless network. Because their range is limited, telecom companies have to install them a few hundred feet apart to deliver internet-based services to homes and businesses.

Proponents, detractors of FCC 5G rules

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who led the effort for the rules, said they eliminated unnecessary delays in the regulatory process and would help make the nation more competitive with China, which is deploying cell sites 12 times the pace of the United States.

"We have to be honest about this infrastructure challenge," Carr said in a statement. "We need a concrete plan to close the gap with China and win the race to 5G."

The FCC estimates wireless companies will spend $275 billion over the next decade to build the infrastructure for 5G, which will enable the industry to sell business and consumer services that it can't deliver on today's 4G networks. In an interview this week on Verizon's 5G effort, an executive said the company would work with local governments to a point.

"We also can't have infinite flexibility, because we have to keep moving and be able to deploy in a reasonable timeframe," said Sean Harrington, vice president of Verizon's smart city initiative. "So, that's a balance that we're always trying to strike."

The four commissioners voted for the regulations, but in a dissenting opinion, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the only Democrat on the commission, said the rules amount to the FCC "telling state and local leaders all across the country what they can and cannot do in their own backyards."

"This is extraordinary federal overreach," Rosenworcel said.

In a joint statement, the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities said more than 100 local governments in 22 states had filed comments with the FCC opposing the new rules.

"The FCC's impractical actions will significantly impede local governments' ability to serve as trustees of public property, safety and well-being," the organizations said. "The decision will transfer significant local public resources to private companies, without securing any guarantee of public benefit in return."

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), the trade group representing the U.S. wireless industry, disagreed, saying the FCC's action would "promote billions in investment and significant job creation."

"It creates a common-sense national framework that will also enable the wireless industry to accelerate the deployment of 5G for millions of Americans," the CTIA statement said.

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