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Infrastructure

The FCC’s Approach to Small Cells Strips Municipalities of Rights, Claim NATOA Panelists

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Photo of small cell by Rohanmkth used with permission

June 29, 2020 — Wireless infrastructure deployment, particularly for small cell or distributed antenna systems, promise smart city innovation abilities. But this rollout is likely to be stymied until resolution of disputes between industry and municipalities.

Local officials are upset that federal intervention – by Congress and by the Federal Communications Commission – is hampering their ability to govern their own rights-of-way.

Panelists of a webinar hosted by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors on Monday argued that local governments must take proactive steps to maintain their influence in negotiations with industry over small cell deployment.

Although the FCC would prefer to ignore them, municipalities do have rights concerning the deployment of wireless infrastructure facilities. In particular, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which preserves local zoning authority over the “placement, construction, and modification of wireless facilities.”

“While current policy gives local governments rights, there are limitations to these rights,” said Michael Roberts, an attorney with the Cohen Law Group.

Localities feel they are being squeezed by federal preemption from Washington

Localities rights were severely restricted in 2018, when the Federal Communications Commission adopted a ruling defining small cells and placing a number of restrictions on how state and local governments can manage the deployment of small cells.

The 2018 order built upon prior rules, and which also raised serious concerns from local governments.

In particular, the most recent order has been critiqued by municipalities as a blatant effort by the agency to strengthen the hand of carriers in negotiations with local governments over small cell deployment.

It was further labeled an attempt to limit the ability of local government to negotiate in the public interest around small cells.

Many local governments and national municipal associations, including NATOA, responded by appealing the order, denouncing its preemption of local power.

The FCC justified the order by stating that it was intended to remove regulatory hurdles impeding the implementation of 5G systems.

Limitations established by the order constrain municipalities’ vis-à-vis wireless infrastructure companies

Among a number of things, the order establishes a working definition for small wireless facilities, or small cells.

Robust DAS and small cell networks require at least one small cell to be deployed every few meters, and the order preempts local governments from establishing certain aesthetic requirements.

It rules all aesthetic requirements for small wireless facilities must be reasonable, no more burdensome than those applied to other types of infrastructure deployments and published in advance.

Roberts advised panelists about the importance of utilizing clear language when writing aesthetic requirements, as providers may be able to use vague language to avoid unclear aesthetic requirements.

The order further defines the size of small cells, stating all antenna equipment can be no more than a cumulative 28 cubic feet in volume.

“That could be up to the size of a refrigerator,” Roberts warned. While the cells are termed “small,” that often is not the case.

The wireless industry often refers to small cells as the size of “pizza box,” but Roberts’ point about 28 cubic feet shows that federal rules allow for the size of a refrigerator that presumably could hold many, many pizza boxes.

The order also puts limitations on the fees that local governments can charge, which Roberts regarded as the biggest impact that it will have on local governments.

The order finds that fees localities charge operators must, again, be “reasonable”.

“Local governments may exceed these approximate cost ceilings by conducting a defensible cost study,” said Tripp May, shareholder at Telecom Law Firm.

Further, the agency’s order creates new shot clocks to control the length of the review process for applications for small wireless facilities.

Shot clocks govern how quickly localities have to review industry applications for installing small cell sites, as all approvals, permits, and agreements must be completed within shot clock time frames.

The industry is lobbying for more legislation that would allow them to immediately begin small cell construction if a locality does not review their application before the shot clock expires, panelists said.

Takeaway messages for municipalities and for the wireless infrastructure industry

As to the FCC’s order, however, petitions filed against it allege that it exceeded the agency’s authority, arguing it largely preempts local governments from regulating their small cell equipment.

Oral arguments in opposition of the order were held on February 20, but the court’s decision has yet to be announced.

“There is a great deal of control at the local level,” Roberts said. “Impose regulations and understand the rights and abilities of your community.”

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Infrastructure

Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds

Funds targeted towards internet providers in areas with poor digital access across 19 states.

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FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it would authorize another $554 million for expansion of broadband service through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The funding announcement represented the finalization of a relatively small portion of the funding awarded as part of $9.3 billion granted in the first phase of the RDOF reverse auction in October and November 2020.

Together with other recent press announcements dribbling out details of RDOF awards, Wednesday’s news puts the FCC’s awards at just more than $1 billion of the $9.3 billion originally awarded at auction.

The FCC, which says that it aims to place broadband infrastructure in areas where it is not currently available, denied LTD Broadband’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline to be designated as an Eligible Telecommunication Carrier in Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota. Becoming an ETC was a necessary prerequisite to receiving RDOF funds.

The agency also denied NW Fiber’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline for submission of a post-auction “long form” application.

With the latest wave of funding, 11 internet providers will be able to bring fiber-to-home gigabit broadband service to more than 180,000 locations across 19 states.

Michigan and Georgia were the states that received the most funding in this wave with $188 and $149 million, respectively. The FCC has cited broadband expansion as an even more necessary priority since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Broadband is an essential service and during the pandemic we’ve seen just how critical it is for families, schools, hospitals and businesses to have affordable internet access,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

The FCC also said that they were working to “clean up” the program and address some of the controversial aspects of RDOF funding decisions.

These decisions included:

  • Sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of waste. Bidders have already chosen not to pursue support in 5,094 census blocks in response to the Commission’s letters.
  • Denying waivers for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.  These bidders would have otherwise received more than $344 million.
  • Pulishing a list of areas where providers had defaulted, thereby making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.
  • Conducting an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review of all winning bidders.

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Infrastructure

Google, Municipal Groups Oppose Mediacom Request to Block Google-City Infrastructure Deal

Mediacom petitioned the FCC to stop a Google-West Des Moines deal, but Google said it’s not exclusive.

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Mediacom CEO Rocco Commisso

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – A number of associations and Google have filed opposition arguments to a Mediacom request that the Federal Communications Commission intervene to stop a city in Iowa from allowing Google an alleged exclusive access to the city’s infrastructure.

MCC Iowa LLC, also known as Mediacom, filed a petition in May that asked the FCC to stop the construction of the West Des Moines network after alleging an exclusivity agreement between Google and the city was signed in July 2020 that it said negatively harms it. Mediacom, which said this is a first of its kind petition, also asked that the commission intervene to “remove the preferential design, access, financial and permitting rights” afforded to the network.

Mediacom brought the complaint based on Section 253 of the Telecommunications Act, which stipulates that cities must foster competition and restrict efforts to protect monopolies.

But in an October 7 submission, Google said its deal with the city to use its network is not exclusive.

“The Conduit Network is, by contract and by design, a multi-user network intended to accommodate the fiber network of Google Fiber as well as the facilities of other licensees,” Google said in its submission. “The agreement between Google Fiber and the City for Google Fiber’s use of a portion of the Conduit Network…expressly contemplates that there will be users other than Google Fiber, following an initial six-month period during which Google Fiber can test that the network is functioning properly as it begins to serve customers.

Google added that the agreement between the two does not stop the city from allowing other providers to ride on the network on the same economic terms.

The Mountain View-based company also claims Mediacom is misapplying Section 253 in this case and seeks to expand its scope because it targets the city’s effort to promote competition and not, as it would rightfully be applied, to target the city’s effort to restrict competition. In other words, Google said the city isn’t trying to restrict competition because it is encouraging service providers to use the network.

In fact, Google argues the deal with the city is advancing the goals of Section 253. “By building its own conduit network…and encouraging private industry to bring high-speed broadband service to its residents, the City is advancing the goal of Section 253,” Google said.

“Granting the Petition would undermine the actual purpose of Section 253 and turn it, instead, into ‘a blunt tool’ that historical incumbents can use to beat down market competition,” Google added.

Municipal organizations also oppose petition

In a separate submission dated October 7, a coalition of municipal organizations argued similarly that Mediacom’s petition is “aimed at thwarting the very competition Section 253 is intended to ensure, and potentially undermines a range of local efforts to bridge the digital divide.”

The joint submission was signed by the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, the National Associations of Counties, and the National Association of Towns and Townships.

The group argued further that Mediacom was expanding the scope of the law because the FCC cannot force a municipality to change the design of a project, but is rather limited to enforce, and address violations to, it.

CORRECTIONA previous version of this story said Google was based in Menlo Park. In fact, it is based in Mountain View, California. 

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5G

Google, Reliant On Success of 5G, Says It Wants Government-Funded Test Beds for Open RAN

Company says that the next generation of its products depend on 5G progress.

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Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 — Google made its case for regulators to make room for greater public-private collaboration in the wake of 5G and more research into open radio access network technologies.

Speaking at the FCBA’s “What’s New and Next in Wireless” session on Tuesday, Michael Purdy from Google’s product and policy team emphasized Google’s interest in the emerging 5G landscape, but wants a “collaborative environment” for innovation.

“5G is exciting because of Google’s products depend on 5G,” he said. “[Our] products can’t come to market without it.” Google’s recent product launches include smart-home technologies. Purdy says their products’ benefits are enhanced as 5G is deployed.

Google, like the technology sector at large, is building on the innovation that the “app economy” produced using existing 4G technology and plans to expand their software capabilities with 5G. “The app economy benefited consumers,” Purdy says. “Our lifestyles are going to depend on 5G.” For telehealth, “real time medical advice needs low latency [and] high speeds.”

However, Google hopes for better regulatory conditions during 5G deployment. “We haven’t been as focused on the FCC [for guidance] . . . we want stability to determine spectrum policy.”

Purdy said the company hopes to work collaboratively with government to find solutions for wider 5G deployment. “[We] want to know what position the government takes in creating an open RAN environment.”

The company said it wants government funded-test beds for open RAN, research into development to ensure that “the downside costs are defrayed.” In overcoming these challenges to 5G deployment, Purdy said Google wants the government to foster a “collaborative environment” to develop open RAN. “We don’t want government picking winners and losers in the innovation process” he said.

Purdy added that spectrum sharing between licensed and unlicensed users “can be good for consumers and for industry.”

The Federal Communications Commission has pushed for ways to develop open RAN to minimize network security risk, as the movement has gained significant momentum. FCC Acting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has described open RAN as having “extraordinary potential for our economy and national security.”

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