FCC Announces New Order to Guide Small Cell Deployment

New order to restrict fees, set timelines, and place other parameters on local government requirements for small cells. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote at a September 26, 2018 open meeting on an order proposed by FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr intended to streamline and reduce costs for the industry’s deployment of small cells in local right of ways. The order is modeled after legislation that has been enacted in 20 states nationwide and has been pursued in other states with varying levels of success.

In Maryland, a hearing on controversial bill that would have established statewide regulation of small cells was cancelled last session. While counties embrace innovation and the advancement of broadband technology, MACo opposed the legislation as it significantly preempted local authority and had inequitable impacts on local communities. Local authority and community decision-making is crucial to the deployment of any facilities in the local right of ways. Currently, local governments across the state are operating under the requirements of the FCC and have passed or are working on passing local legislation, ordinances, or agreements to guide the deployment of small cells.

An FCC News Release outlines the proposed orders’ provisions:

Carr’s plan has four main components:

1. Implements long-standing federal law that bars municipal rules that have the effect of
prohibiting deployment of wireless service
2. Allows municipalities to charge fees for reviewing small cell deployments when such fees are
limited to recovering the municipalities’ costs, and provides guidance on specific fee levels
that would comply with this standard
3. Requires municipalities to approve or disapprove applications to attach small cells to existing
structures within 60 days and applications to build new small cell poles within 90 days
4. Places modest guardrails on other municipal rules that may prohibit service while reaffirming
localities’ traditional roles in, for example, reasonable aesthetic reviews

Small cells are wireless antennas that have a smaller footprint and shorter range than macro-cells (traditional cell towers). This allows them to be placed on shorter poles and existing structures such as streetlights and buildings. The technology is proliferating in part to increase network capacity and coverage as the demand for wireless services has increased and the advancement of 5G technology is closely on the horizon. Proponents for the order argue the restrictions on local laws are needed to expedite small cell deployment.

For more information:

Carr Announces Next 5G Order in Indiana Statehouse Speech (FCC)

Statewide Small Cell Bill Falters; Focus on Local Efforts (Conduit Street)

Big Discussions on Small Cells at MACo Symposium (Conduit Street)

Montgomery County Sets Zoning Standards for Small Cell Antennas (Conduit Street)