FCC, Seeking More 5G Deployment, Limits Fees

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. regulators limited fees that wireless companies can be charged for permission to install 5G wireless network antennas, saying lowered costs will spur deployment.

The Federal Communications Commission on a 4-0 vote also tightened deadlines for localities to consider applications to put antennas on publicly owned poles, or install new gear beside sidewalks and in medians. Cities said the change will undermine efforts to spread the technology to poor, unserved areas.

The change affects procedures around so-called small cells that will be spaced every few blocks and carry signals for 5G, or fifth-generation wireless service that will perform as much as 100 times faster than the current 4G standard. FCC and industry officials say the antennas involved are the size of a pizza box or a backpack. But some of the gear is the size of a refrigerator, and new poles can be four stories tall.

“Big-city taxes on 5G slow down deployment there and also jeopardize the construction of 5G networks in suburbs and rural America,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “And when a municipality fails to act promptly on applications, it can slow down deployment in many other localities.”

New York City Chief Information Officer Samir Saini in a blog post said the FCC “is threatening the public’s right to control public property.”

The changes approved by the FCC closely follow proposals from mobile providers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., which said high fees and laggardly reviews slow the spread of 5G networks. Industry is rushing to deploy 300,000 or more antennas in the coming years as participants chase market share, in part by being first with the speedy, ubiquitous 5G network that will underpin communications wonders such as remote surgery and autonomous vehicles.

Groups representing cities, mayors, counties and regional bodies asked the the FCC to reject the measure. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities objected, saying the FCC’s measure would stand in the way of agreements for companies to spread 5G service throughout jurisdictions.

“Big wireless companies are going to go where the money is -- to the rich commercial districts and dense residential areas in urban cores,” Saini said. “They will not be racing to serve traditionally underserved areas at affordable rates -- be they rural or urban -- where the prospect of profit doesn’t look as good.”

Under the FCC order, cities couldn’t charge more than it costs them to process applications and manage rights-of-way -- an amount the agency estimated at $270.

That’s far short of charges in some cities. New York City charges as much at $5,100 a year in Manhattan south of 96th Street, and as little as $148 annually in places where it’s trying to encourage deployment. San Jose, California, this year struck a deal with companies for access to 4,000 city-owned poles at a cost of $750 annually, with some money set aside for spreading broadband to more areas.

The FCC also tightened to 60 days, from 90, the time limit for localities to review new small antennas on existing structures, and placed a 90-day limit for considering new installations, down from 150 days. The 90- and 150-day limits still apply to the large, traditional cell towers that can stand 200 feet tall.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the agency’s sole Democrat, said she was dissenting from part of the order.

“I do not believe the law permits Washington to run roughshod over state and local authority like this and I worry the litigation that follows will only slow our 5G future,” Rosenworcel said.

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