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What the FCC’s Small Cell Ruling Means for Municipalities

POSTED BY: Mary Ashley Canevaro on 07.16.2019

small cell ruling municipalities

The new restrictions, requirements, and obligations in the FCC’s Third Order and Report on small cell wireless deployment represent a major change for many municipalities nationwide. The order limits the fees cities are allowed to charge wireless providers, the restrictions they can place on small cell deployment, and the amount of time they can take to rule on small cell applications.

Before the FCC issued the order in September 2018, many cities had already modified their rules to make way for small cell deployment. For those cities, the transition to the new rules may have been smooth. For others, however, making the change has proved challenging.

Read the Guide to Small Cell Technology for Joint Use Professionals

In this blog, we will take a deep dive into how the small cell order is affecting municipalities.

New Requirements and Restrictions

The new rules on small cell wireless deployment fall into three main categories:

  • Timelines: Cities must rule on applications for small cell attachments to existing light poles or other structures within 60 days after they are submitted. They have 90 days to approve applications for new poles bearing small cell equipment.

  • Fees: The order requires that any fees a municipality charges a provider must be based on the municipality’s actual costs incurred by the small cell deployment. The "costs" must be reasonable, excluding exorbitant charges by consultants or third-party contractors. And, all providers working with a city must be charged on the same basis, without discrimination.

  • Restrictions: Municipal restrictions on small cell attachments, such as those intended to protect public safety and aesthetics, must be reasonable, non-discriminatory, objective, and available in advance.

Protections for Municipalities

Understandably, most of the attention has been focused on the Third Report and Order’s new requirements. However, the FCC did include qualifications intended to give municipalities some flexibility.

Although cities must be ready to demonstrate costs related to small cell deployment, the Commission declined to require a specific accounting method to figure those costs. The FCC provided examples of what it considered reasonable municipal fees for a small cell attachment, but it declined to cap fees at those amounts, acknowledging that circumstances and costs could vary from city to city.

The Commission also affirmed municipalities’ authority to set restrictions protecting public safety and quality of life, including aesthetics, although the restrictions must meet the standards described above.

Finally, the FCC made a late change allowing municipalities to restart the 60-day or 90-day time periods on application reviews if a provider submits an incomplete application.

Potential Benefits

The report states the FCC’s main reason for imposing its small cell rules on municipalities is to speed up deployment so that everyone – citizens, businesses, and local governments – can take advantage of high bandwidth, low latency and additional services offered by 5G.

Other potential benefits include:

  • Creation of an estimated 3 million jobs, according to a study cited by the FCC.

  • A half-trillion-dollar boost to GDP, with an extra $100 billion economic benefit possible if the new technology is deployed quickly enough, according to two studies.

  • Access to Smart City technology fueled by 5G. The Internet of Things (IoT) could make many city services and functions more efficient, including traffic flow management, energy use, street lighting, public safety dispatch, and public sanitation, as described by Forbes.

And for smaller to mid-sized cities, a rapid, streamlined nationwide deployment means the technology will reach them sooner, the FCC report states. Reducing deployment costs prevents a large, “must-serve” city from imposing excessive charges that could quickly diminish a provider’s budget and leave less money to spend elsewhere.

Getting in Sync

Small cell deployment under the new rules is still in its early stages. This effort will require municipal officials to work quickly, efficiently, fairly and in an organized way. One of the major fears expressed about the order is that cities will end up eating thousands of dollars in unrecovered costs. Internal business efficiencies are crucial to keeping costs down.

The nation’s leading asset management platform, Alden One®, is designed for joint use professionals working on infrastructure deployments, including small cell attachments. Automated workflows ensure deadlines are met, compliance is achieved, and all parties stay on top of the process, at each step of the way.

Municipalities and wireless providers must work in sync with each other and deploy small cell equipment efficiently, while preserving community standards. Professionals using the Alden One® platform will emerge from the process with strong infrastructure that can improve the quality of life in their communities for years to come.

If you’d like to talk with an Alden product specialist about ways to streamline your joint use operations, click below. We are happy to help.

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Topics: Small Cell Technology

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