We’ve been quite clear about the need for more spectrum for the U.S. wireless industry, but towers are another important piece to our members so they can provide customers with service anywhere, anytime.
As we explain in the Wireless in America brochure, “smart” wireless base stations (usually cell sites) are what help you be mobile since they can sense when your signal can be stronger as you move toward a closer antenna. Wireless base stations keep track of you, and hand off your signals as you move from one cell to another served by another base station. Using smaller cells, which means more towers or base stations, also enables your device to use less power and keep a clearer signal as you move. While geography plays a role in wireless coverage, towers are key.
In 2009, the FCC adopted a “shot clock” in 2009 that requires state and local zoning authorities to act within 90 days for collocation and 150 days for new tower construction requests. If local zoning authorities do not meet the time frames, they will be presumed to have “failed to act” and tower applicants’ have the right to appeal to the courts for action. In addition, a zoning authority may not deny an application filed by one provider based on the presence of another wireless provider in a given area. While this was a significant step, the FCC can do more to expand wireless broadband deployment.
We recently filed comments with the FCC urging the Commission to take steps to work more closely with local zoning authorities to accelerate wireless broadband deployment. By taking the following steps, we believe the Commission will help local zoning authorities recognize the importance of leaving licensing-related determinations to the FCC:
- Sponsor a competitive municipal “race-to-the-top” program that identifies cities that have adopted the best practices for promoting broadband infrastructure deployment;
- Initiate a dialog with state and local authorities to further their understanding of technical matters and the FCC’s role in addressing them; and
- Urge localities to either employ a shortened shot clock for collocations or permit collocation by right, because collocations are critical to broadband rollout and involve sites that have already received zoning approvals.
We also believe the Commission should examine the fees charged by local authorities for wireless zoning, which are often much higher than the fees for all other major construction projects. These include local requirements to pay the uncapped fees of the zoning boards’ third-party consultants. These fees are a burden and result in delays and uncertainly, ultimately disadvantaging subscribers and adversely affecting public safety.
There are additional delays in siting and obtaining rights-of-way when applicants attempt to site towers on federal land. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan recognizes that several federal agencies have jurisdiction over hundreds of millions of acres of land and thousands of buildings; it recommends that this problem be solved with increased coordination between agencies and cost-based fees and master contracts. The FCC should work with the Administration and Congress to establish a clear right of access to federal lands, buildings and rights-of-way.
We commend the FCC for their very positive work in expediting the siting process. With further streamlining, the virtuous cycle of innovation will continue to thrive, offering consumers the benefits of ubiquitous wireless broadband, innovative new services and increased capacity.