With the passage of the order, “Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment,” last week, Marvin Webster’s company, Environmental Corporation of America, stands to lose business analyzing small cells for violations of National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Yet, he still supports the initiative, he told the South Wireless Summit, today, in Nashville.
“From the beginning of small cell deployment the industry has spent an enormous amount of time and money to analyze 10s of thousands of small cells that have very little potential to impact the environment or historic preservation,” Webster said. “The changes, if codified, would drastically cut down on the timeline and the financial burden of building wireless infrastructure.” Webster spoke on the Regulatory Panel on the second day of the three-day show, which is produced by the state wireless associations of Arkansas/Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia.
After analyzing thousands of small cells at a cost of millions of dollars in tribal fees, Webster said he could not remember a single instance where a tribe identified a single historic property that would have been directly affected by the deployment of a small cell.
“Those rules were born in a time when towers were tall and there was a greater chance for an environmental impact, but as towers have gotten smaller and smaller that’s just not true now,” Webster said. “I felt like we are analyzing to the Nth degree a lot of projects that did not have a high likelihood of causing an environmental effect. And we were paying a lot of entities to review our findings. I think it was something that needed to happen.”
Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of WIA, noted the wireless industry’s support for the Commission’s the effort to remove regulatory barriers to the deployment of wireless infrastructure.
“After many years of work, we are pleased the FCC has taken significant steps to modernize the tribal consultation notification system so that all parties benefit from clearer review processes, timelines, and associated fees, while protecting culturally and historically significant heritage sites.”
CTIA commissioned an analysis by Accenture Strategy that exempting small cells from environment and historic review would reduce the cost 5G deployments by a third. These reviews cost industry $36 million in 2017 and are expected to increase over six-fold in 2018.
“These findings validate Commissioner Carr’s call to action and the FCC’s proposal to modernize outdated federal rules that have not kept pace with new technology. To win the global race to 5G, we need to accelerate small cell installations and reduce the costs of deployment,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, CTIA President and CEO. “The FCC’s common-sense proposal will cut the cost of rolling out tomorrow’s wireless networks by over a billion dollars and speed their availability to communities across America.”
Divided FCC Votes 3-2 to Accelerate Broadband Wireless Deployment
FCC Chairman Ajit once complained that his predecessor Tom Wheeler pushed through regulation without reaching across to other commissioners for compromise. With the passage of the order, “Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment,” (WT Docket No. 17-79) last week, Pai himself faced withering criticism from FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, who didn’t object so much with the item’s goal but his methods of getting there.
The order seeks to speed the deployment of 5G by streamlining regulations by excluding small cells on non-Tribal lands from NHPA and NEPA review, concluding that these facilities are neither “federal undertakings” nor “major federal actions.” The order also changed the process for tribal participation in Section 106 historic preservation reviews for large wireless facilities. The item removed the Environmental Assessments requirements in floodplain, as long as certain conditions are met. And it established deadlines for commission to act on environmental assessments.
After listening to the objections of states and the Tribal Nations to FCC proposals, Clyburn became convinced that changes to the order should be considered. “At this juncture, the potential adverse impact of these proposed rules on Tribal Nations, historic sites, and the natural environment were severe and had yet to be fully addressed. Unfortunately, my request to delay the vote, was rejected,” she wrote in her statement.
Rosenworcel fully supported streamlining small cell deployment regulations, but she wrote that running “roughshod over the rights of our Tribal communities” and giving “short shrift to our most basic environmental and historic preservation values” would not accomplish that goal. She also noted that for all the consulting the FCC did with the tribes, not a single one supported the rules change.
“We have long-standing duties to consult with Tribes before implementing any regulation or policy that will significantly or uniquely affect Tribal governments, their land, or their resources. But we do not honor it here,” she wrote.
Perhaps most importantly, the opposition did not believe the FCC’s order would withstand a review by the courts. Rosenworcel noted the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation did not agree with the commission’s interpretation of the National Historic Preservation Act. She also believed the item’s analysis of the NHPA “is flawed—and likely to have messy consequences for future wireless deployment.”
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: [email protected]