With expanding broadband as its defining priority, the FCC is taking a number of steps to facilitate the deployment of broadband facilities. We recently wrote on the FCC’s new pole attachment order, intended to expedite and lower the cost of access to utility poles. In a companion Notice of Inquiry, published today in the Federal Register, the Commission will be exploring ways that local governments and other authorities can help improve rights-of-way access and facility siting, both of which are key to mobile broadband deployment. Comments on the NOI are due by July 18 and Replies are due August 30.
To give the FCC’s action some context, it has been estimated that the wireless industry has deployed some 250,000 cell sites in the U.S. in the last 25 years. With 4G deployments, which require sites deeper into the network, one analyst estimated that the country will need 2.4 million sites by 2020 to support the expected level of mobile broadband traffic. For those who remember the battles a few years back between the telecom industry and local governments, as well as agencies managing federal lands, a real question exists as to how that all gets done.
Enter the FCC and the facilities deployment NOI, which has identified and seeks comment on various points of contention between industry and government affecting broadband buildout, in an effort to identify a comprehensive solution. These include timeliness and ease of the permitting process; reasonableness of rights-of-way and other charges; outdated ordinances and statutes, including the treatment of small antenna systems on existing facilities (known as Distributed Antenna Systems or DAS); differing regulation between rights-of-way access, including traditional pole attachments versus wireless facilities siting; and opportunities for FCC intervention and best practices.