FCC Curbs Historic-Impact Reviews to Speed 5G Gear Installation

(Bloomberg) -- Regulators helped clear the way for wireless companies to deploy hundreds of thousands of small antennas for use in advanced 5G service by easing historic and environmental reviews before equipment is deployed, and curbing American Indian tribes’ authority over the installations.

The Federal Communications Commission on a 3-to-2 Republican-led vote said installing the gear doesn’t trigger reviews under federal historic and environmental preservation rules.

The vote didn’t affect reviews by towns and cities, which the agency may consider later this year.

Mobile carriers led by AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. supported the relaxation of rules, saying they were designed decades ago for 200-foot towers. The carriers said those rules shouldn’t apply to the gear needed for advanced 5G connections: devices the size of pizza boxes that can be set on streetlights or utility poles in about an hour.

Democratic lawmakers objected before the vote. The FCC’s action would “eviscerate critical environmental and transparency protections” as gear is installed on street corners and light poles around the country, Representative Debbie Dingell, of Michigan, said in a March 21 letter. Other Democratic lawmakers said the FCC hadn’t sufficiently consulted with American Indian tribes, whose role in reviewing small-cell sites on culturally sensitive areas outside of tribal lands would be eliminated.

The FCC is separately considering whether to limit fees and the duration of cell-site reviews by towns and cities. Providers suffer delays and pay excessive fees, Michael O’Rielly, a Republican FCC commissioner, has said.

Localities are pushing back. “Our residents and businesses appropriately balk at the placement of a 100-foot monopole on their lawn with no recourse, or to having their local government’s hands tied” in matters of rights-of-way, 36 mayors and local elected leaders said in a March 15 letter.

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