What the FCC’s Small Cell Ruling Means for Telecoms and Broadband
When the FCC issued its Third Report and Order on small cell attachments in September 2018, wireless telecommunications companies were given more opportunity to deploy their services.
The FCC’s intent, as explained in a report that accompanied the order, was to speed and streamline the deployment of small cell infrastructure throughout the nation. The regulatory order’s goal is to ensure vast access to 5G technology.
The 2018 Third Report and Order, upheld in an August 2020 court ruling, means big changes for the telecoms and broadband providers working to make that happen.
Reduced Costs for Small Cell Attachments
The FCC limited how much a city can charge providers for application review, right-of-way access (ROW), and permits to attach – all required for small cell installation. Under the new rules, the charges must represent only the city’s actual costs from deployment, minus any “exorbitant” fees charged by consultants or third-party contractors.
While the FCC did not set a maximum dollar figure, it stated that the charges should seldom exceed $100 per small cell attachment, plus an annual fee of $270 each to cover costs such as right-of-way and pole maintenance. In some municipalities, these amounts may be close to what telecoms and broadband companies have already been paying. But in other cases, providers have often been charged far more.
In a statement attached to the FCC report, Commissioner Brendan Carr predicted that the new rules “will cut $2 billion in red tape.” He estimated that this number amounts to “about $8,000 in savings per small cell.” That’s a pretty big change!
Besides costs, the FCC removed additional obstacles blocking speedy deployment. In some cities, attaching companies had objected to the long delays for officials to consider their applications. The new rules mandate timelines for swift action: 60 days to rule on an application for attachment to an existing pole and 90 days to consider installation of a new pole.
Cities are permitted to stop the timeline only if the application is incomplete, and they cannot create pre-application requirements that prolong the process. Providers should know in every case how long they will have to wait for an answer on installation requests.
The FCC also imposed new rules regarding the regulations that many cities use to enforce aesthetic standards. While the order maintains local governments’ authority to make such rules, they cannot prevent small cell installation altogether.
Lastly, telecoms must still meet long-standing FCC rules governing radio frequency emissions exposure.
Level the Playing Field
One important note for broadband and telecom companies is that the order prohibits discrimination among providers. The FCC states that fees charged to one provider cannot be materially higher than those charged to another provider for similar purposes.
Fewer obstacles, lower costs, and anti-discrimination rules are expected to increase competition.
The changes should eliminate a lot of uncertainties for telecoms and broadband companies. Costs will not be exactly the same in every geographical location, but with the Report and Order in place they are becoming more uniform. This allows for more accurate deployment budgets among all joint use parties. Each joint use party can plan better knowing how long applications will take to process.
Collaboration and the Future
The FCC order put telecoms and broadband companies in a promising position moving forward.
However, joint use stakeholders are not the only parties benefitting from the new changes. The FCC says the small cell regulation will benefit the public as well, who will now have access to much faster broadband speeds. Further, the benefits of increased small cell attachments will result in broadband services to further enable automated services in homes, automobiles, and public life.
As technology progresses, cities, electric power providers, communications, and broadband companies have a lengthy relationship ahead. With the increasing need to work together, a smooth and orderly rapport is essential. Successful partnerships require all parties -- providers and cities to work together through proposals, permit requests, reviews, approvals, and installations.
At Alden, we believe working together in the joint use industry can be simple and clear with the right tools. Automated, modern systems that match the new technology being deployed is critical for a successful future. Our platform, Alden One®, is designed to facilitate deployment—from start to finish. It has been developed for asset owners and companies who attach to and share those assets. Easing coordination among the parties involved is key to working better (and smarter) together.