FCC On Track to OK Infrastructure Clarifications Despite Calls for Delay
The FCC is expected to act on the wireless infrastructure ruling teed up for a commissioner vote Tuesday. That’s despite concerns from local and state governments and calls from Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks to consider delay. It’s unclear how the two Democrats will vote, though both are expected to raise concerns at the meeting. Officials expect some tweaks based on ex parte filings by opponents and proponents of the item, but broader eighth-floor discussions are just getting started. The FCC June commissioners’ meeting is expected to be more like a normal meeting than the abbreviated sessions in March and May. Commissioners will read their statements on major items, including the infrastructure item. The agency is also considering allowing video rather than just audio.
“Nationwide protests,” Rosenworcel tweeted Tuesday: “107,000 lives lost. 40,000,000 unemployed. On all these crises local governments are on the front lines. So when they ask for time to prioritize this critical work before the FCC makes a decision affecting them they deserve an answer.” Starks also wants a delay (see 2006020037).
Opponents of a vote next week said they contacted staff for Chairman Ajit Pai and were told Commissioner Brendan Carr in shepherding the item. Carr has held a firm line. The FCC didn’t comment Wednesday.
“We are in the middle of a 5G upgrade,” emailed Wireless Infrastructure Association President Jonathan Adelstein. WIA and CTIA sought the changes. “A way to help communities get back on track, as they recover from the pandemic, is to provide connectivity through upgraded wireless networks,” Adelstein said. The comment deadline was extended last year and WIA went along, he said: “There now has been ample time for review since last summer, and discussions between industry and local governments have been on-going since then.” CTIA declined comment.
“A delay is not likely,” David Hoover, policy adviser for the National Association of Towns and Townships (NATaT), in an interview. “We have requested that the commission carry this matter over to its July or August meeting, but I don’t expect that.” About 85% of the group’s members serve localities with fewer than 10,000 people, he said. “The timing is not good as our members are responding to a pandemic,” he said: “It’s also budget season, and local governments right now are facing large fiscal impacts from COVID. … The timing could not be worse.”
The desire for a delay isn’t only by Democrats, Best Best’s Gerard Lederer said. “There are an awful lot of Republican county executives, Republican mayors, Republican county council members” who are members of the national groups that asked for more time, he said. “These are significant changes and local government was given two weeks to address them,” he said: “There are an awful lot of people who aren’t in the record.” As a declaratory order, the changes would take place immediately, he noted.
The National Association of Counties sees the FCC’s proposal as a “systemic overhaul,” not a “simple fix” as the FCC pitched it, said NACo Associate Legislative Director Arthur Scott. Since local governments are occupied with COVID-19 response, it’s “concerning that it’s taking such a strong effort to simply ask for more time,” he said. Localities sued the FCC over its last two infrastructure orders. “The most important part is that we do have a recognition from our federal partners that local governments are under a considerable strain,” Scott said: Given current circumstances, they need to be “able to allocate the appropriate time to everything.”
Rosenworcel and Starks acknowledge “the tone-deaf timing,” said NATOA General Counsel Nancy Werner: “It’s unrealistic, and unreasonable, to expect local governments to focus on this issue right now, so what’s the urgency in pushing something that isn’t going to make a practical difference at the moment?” Colorado counties “are so busy with COVID response and now engaging in the economic recovery that we’re kind of solely focused on helping our communities get back on their feet,” emailed Eric Bergman, policy director for Colorado Counties Inc. “I would hope that the FCC doesn’t see that as an opportunity to backdoor some rules that are detrimental to getting broadband deployment out to those communities.”
The most recent filings in docket 19-250 are consistent with earlier ones, with government groups raising concerns and industry asking for action. “As there is no evidence that a change is required, it would be wisest to maintain the status quo,” said cities and counties, including Los Angeles and Boston. NATOA, the National League of Cities and NATaT spoke with aides to Rosenworcel and Starks (see here and here).
“Grant and expand upon all telecommunications relief requests that hinder efficient and supportive next generation services,” Zayo said. The order “will provide important clarifications to the Commission’s existing rules streamlining deployment of collocations and minor modifications on existing sites,” Crown Castle said.