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Playing by the FCC Small Cell Rules: Fees and Restrictions

POSTED BY: Mary Ashley Canevaro on 07.2.2019

 

FCC fees and restrictions

The FCC’s Third Report and Order on small cell wireless deployment was issued in September 2018. The goal of the Order is to remove any blocks that prevent the rollout of 5G.

A major obstacle the FCC identified is the cost of deployment. The commission said its order prohibits excessive fees previously charged by some local governments, and sets rules to make small cell deployment a more uniform process across the country.

High-speed 5G will be the first giant leap in wireless broadband service in about a decade, since 4G enabled the rise of the $950 billion app economy. “We have the strongest wireless economy in the world because we won the race to 4G…5G is about our leadership for the next decade,” according to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. Exorbitant costs could slow deployment enough to derail efforts to stay ahead.

Read the Guide to Small Cell Technology for Joint Use Professionals

The order also targets another obstacle: local restrictions. Some cities have practically banned small cell attachments in the public right of way. The FCC affirmed cities’ rights to impose restrictions for aesthetic and safety reasons, but its order limits those restrictions to ensure they do not shut down small cell deployment.

This blog will take a look at how the FCC order addresses cost of deployment and local restrictions.

Reigning in Fees

Fees charged to providers by local governments for installing small cell equipment on streetlights or other public property can effectively prohibit deployment if they’re not controlled, the FCC said. They commonly include fees for application review, right-of-way access, and attachment to public property.

The new rules require that any fees a state or local government charges for installing small cell equipment must meet these criteria:

  • The fees must reasonably approximate the government’s actual, demonstrable costs incurred by deployment.
  • Only costs that are reasonable themselves may be included in the fees. If the government hired a consultant at an exorbitant rate, it cannot pass those costs on to the wireless provider.
  • The fees must not exceed those charged to competitors in similar situations.

Cap or No Cap?

To clarify further, the FCC listed fee amounts it considers reasonable:

  • One-time fees: $500 for an application covering up to five small cell attachments to existing public property; $100 for each additional attachment; and $1,000 for a new pole containing small cell equipment.
  • Recurring fees: an annual fee of $270 per unit to cover costs, such as right-of-way maintenance.

Some reporting on the FCC’s order has described these amounts as caps on fees, but the FCC’s report clearly states that they are not. The FCC does say it believes cities will be able to justify charging higher amounts only in very limited circumstances, and that providers are unlikely to take a city to court if its fees do not exceed these amounts.

The FCC states, however, that the standards set for fees (not the specific amounts mentioned in the report) will govern whether a particular fee is allowed.

Limiting City Restrictions

Cities have a wide range of right of way restrictions designed to protect traffic safety, property values, and quality of life. These often include aesthetic requirements to prevent public eyesores, especially in districts with historical, cultural, or scenic significance.

The FCC order confirms that state and local governments have authority to regulate rights of way, but it also says restrictions must be:

  • They must be technically feasible and reasonably directed to avoid public harm from unsafe, unsightly or out-of-character deployments.
  • Objective and published in advance. Standards must be clearly defined and ascertainable, requiring no guesswork.
  • No more burdensome than restrictions on other types of infrastructure.

The FCC has offered a few examples of how authorities can regulate their own rights of way. For instance, it may be reasonable for a city to require some wireless infrastructure be placed underground, but it cannot require that all of it be underground. And while it may regulate wireless deployment in the public right of way, it cannot ban such deployments.

Streamlining the Process

The FCC’s new small cell rules have already taken effect. Twenty-five states have passed their own small cell laws that mirror the Order, and two U.S. senators recently introduced a bipartisan bill that would codify the FCC requirements as federal law.

Municipal departments, telecommunications companies, and contractors across the country are working together on small cell deployment under the terms set down by the FCC. The promises of new technology are exciting, but effectively maintaining the infrastructure is a big job.

There’s a lot to keep up with – applications submitted, proposed locations, number of existing attachments per pole, review deadlines, approval status, companies involved, site preparation, fees assessed and paid, installation schedule, inspection status, and much more.

Alden One®, the nation’s leading asset management platform for the joint use community, eliminates chaos that comes with new processes. Joint use departments around the country are switching to a centralized, automated platform that provides clarity and control. Alden One®’s automated workflows keep small cell processes running smoothly, while all users are informed of each step. Dashboards provide a clear overview of every project for internal team members.

If we work together, we can build wireless infrastructure that will benefit our lives for years to come. If you’d like to know more about managing small cell data in Alden One®, click the link below. A product specialist will be happy to answer your questions.

Small cell attachments

Topics: Small Cell Technology

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