FCC speeds up process for approving 5G small cells – and sets cost limits
The US is taking federal control of charges states and local government can make for approving 5G infrastructure, and setting tight timescales.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted last night to force authorities to make decisions on small cells in 90 days for new infrastructure or 60 days for co-location on existing facilities.
“Today’s order streamlines the approval process for 5G small cells and helps ensure that our country will continue to be the innovation hub of the world,” said Brendan Carr, the FCC member who steered the new rules through the US regulator.
Ajit Pai, who chairs the FCC, welcomed the decision: “Installing small cells isn’t easy, too often because of regulations,” he said. “There are layers of – sometimes unnecessary and unreasonable – rules that can prevent widespread deployment.”
Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the two Democrats on the politically aligned regulator, also welcomed the vote but complained about the extension of federal control.
“Instead of working with our state and local partners to speed the way to 5G deployment, we cut them out,” she said. “We tell them that going forward Washington will make choices for them – about which fees are permissible and which are not, about what aesthetic choices are viable and which are not.”
The FCC said that the new order will cut $2 billion from the cost of approvals and claimed it would stimulate $2.4 billion of additional small cell construction.
That’s less than 1% of the projected investment in 5G in the US according to Carr’s own figures. He said: “The smart infrastructure policies we adopt today strengthen America’s role as a tech and economic leader, while ensuring that every community benefits from 5G. Wireless providers are projected to spend $275 billion in the US to build 5G, which represents a massive private sector investment in American infrastructure and jobs – without a penny of new taxes.”
Carr added: “Today’s order streamlines the approval process for 5G small cells and helps ensure that our country will continue to be the innovation hub of the world.”
The new FCC rules set out the scale of fees that local authorities can be charged and also specifies what other rules – such as insisting cables be underground or determining design standards – “may constitute an effective prohibition of service”.
The news also codify the nine-year-old guidelines for macrocells – a 150-day target for approving new infrastructure and just 90 days for approving co-location on existing structures.
The regulator says that all state and local government authorisations must conform to the new targets. If they miss the target, that “constitutes a presumptive prohibition on the provision of services”, it warns.
“Many states and localities have … taken positive steps to reform their own laws and increase the likelihood that their citizens will be able to benefit from 5G networks,” said Pai, warning: “But as this order makes clear, there are outliers that are unreasonably standing in the way of wireless infrastructure deployment.”
Carr said that US speed in adopting 4G over the past few years had benefited the economy: “We have the strongest wireless economy in the world because we won the race to 4G. No country had faster 4G deployment and more intense investment than we did. Winning the race to 4G added $100 billion to our GDP. It led to $125 billion in revenue for US companies that could have gone abroad.”
He said: “That history should remind policymakers at all levels of government exactly what is at stake. 5G is about our leadership for the next decade.”
He warned that the US is competing with China for 5G leadership. “They [the Chinese] view 5G as a chance to flip the script. They want to lead the tech sector for the next decade. And they are moving aggressively to deploy the infrastructure needed for 5G,” said Carr.
“Since 2015, China has deployed 350,000 cell sites. We’ve built fewer than 30,000. Right now, China is deploying 460 cell sites a day. That is 12 times our pace. We have to be honest about this infrastructure challenge. The time for empty statements about carrots and sticks is over. We need a concrete plan to close the gap with China and win the race to 5G.”