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FCC’s Controversial Wireless Infrastructure Order Placed in Context of Transition From 4G to 5G Networks

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Screenshot from the FCBA webinar

October 20, 2020 — Industry officials and policy-makers who want the Federal Communications Commission to take a more active role in prescribing local rules for wireless facilities said that the rules in place for a 4G world of tall cellular towers don’t make sense in a 5G world.

Speaking at a September 29 event of the Federal Communications Bar Association, these officials contrasted 4G technology, which only requires a few tall cellular towers to deploy widespread access, to 5G technology. The newer technology requires “small cell” transmission facilities, and it requires a lot of them.

Yet, the FCC was tasked with interpreting aged, ambiguous language from the Telecommunications Act of 1996  to create rules governing the rollout of 5G small cells, these panelists said.

“The Commission, in a series of orders, interpreted old standards for the new form of technology,” said John Howes, government affairs counsel at the Wireless Infrastructure Association. Through a series of 2018 decisions, the FCC established rules regulating fees, put in place a moratorium order, formed aesthetic requirements, and more.

In response, countless local governments, pole-owning utilities, and wireless carriers petitioned for review of multiple aspects of the orders that were briefed and argued in the Ninth Circuit Court.

According to the panelists, the main argument made by municipalities protesting the FCC’s orders was that the agency’s standards were inconsistent with the Ninth Circuit’s interpretations of law.

“Municipalities argued that the FCC’s interpretations of Sections 253 and 332 of the 1996 Act, did not line up with what the rulings say local government can do,” said Nancy Werner, general counsel at the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, which is critical of the FCC’s wireless deployment order.

On August 12, 2020, a three-judge panel in the City of Portland v. FCC rejected multiple of the challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s Small Cell, Local Moratoria, and One Touch Make Ready orders.

Many have called the decision an undeniably win for wireless and wireline providers. “The order was fantastic from the point of industry,” said Josh Turner, partner at the Wiley Rein law firm. “It was hugely helpful in setting rules so everyone could understand what can and can’t be done.”

According to Tom Johnson, general counsel at the FCC, the agency also viewed the Court’s decision as a win. “The court gave us a lot of leeway to decipher the earlier language of the 1996 Act,” he said, adding, “the move will also help expedite broadband deployment.”

The battles between the FCC and local government are nowhere near done, as there are currently pending siting reforms throughout the Trump Administration, including regarding Section 6409 of the 2012 Spectrum Act, and other measures dealing with franchising and pole attachment proceedings and siting on federal lands.

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.

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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Huawei Avoids Network Security Questions, Pushes 5G Innovation

Huawei’s CTO avoided questions about concerns over its network infrastructure security as countries ban its products.

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Huawei carrier business CTO Paul Scanlan.

WASHINGTON, October 19, 2021 — Huawei’s chief technology officer did not address questions Monday about the company’s network security practices during a session on how 5G drives economic growth, but said the focus should be on the evolutionary technology instead.

Paul Scanlan, Huawei’s CTO in the carrier business group, focused his presentation at the Economist Impact Innovation@Work conference on the promise of 5G technology and ignored concerns about network safety.

“We can service more customers with 5G” to start bridging the digital divide, he said. The pandemic has given the company an insight into customer behavior to better channel its data traffic needs. “5G performs better for the types of services we use now” he says, such as video streaming and user-generated content.

Scanlan avoided specific questions about his company’s technology and steered the conversation toward providing faster speeds for the health care industry. “Give me some use instances where the company has introduced 5G and helped companies be efficient” asked the moderator, Ludwig Siegele. “I’d like to stick on the health care sector, that’s more topical as you can imagine,” Scanlan responded.

“People are missing [innovation in 5G] because of geopolitical issues around the world,” said Scanlan. “Being able to collect the data and analyze it is where the business benefit lies . . . 5G adoption through the [standardized network] ecosystem is very important and we see this with 5G” for interoperability with other companies and providers.

Huawei’s promotion of their telecommunications products continues as the U.S. maintains national security sanctions against the tech giant. The impact of U.S. sanctions results a drop in sales for the company in 2021. The FCC has also recommended that Huawei’s equipment be listed as “high risk” to U.S. network security. Huawei told the FCC it cannot show the company’s equipment is a threat to U.S. networks.

Huawei’s global head of cybersecurity said this summer that President Joe Biden‘s executive order banning investments in Chinese companies is a “policy misstep” that will not only lose the U.S. a huge market, but will just make the company more self-sufficient.

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Celebrating Progress on 5G, the FCC’s Brendan Carr Urges Broadband Mapping

5G crusader Commissioner Brendan Carr voiced pride in the FCC’s focus on 5G over the past four years

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Photo of Brendan Carr from the Tennessee Star

WASHINGTON, October 15, 2021–Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr on Friday celebrated U.S. progress in 5G wireless investment and urged the completion of the agency’s broadband mapping initiative.

Speaking a the Free State Foundation gala luncheon, Carr argued that the United States has progressed in its 5G investments and is catching up to foreign networks. ”Years ago we imaged the U.S. would be left behind in 5G,” he said.

He touted his and former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s efforts to “remove the red tape.” Enabling the private sector has paid off, he said: The U.S. has jumped 20 places on the country internet speed index, signaling the installation of more robust U.S. 5G networks.

Further, the FCC should complete its broadband mapping process and take caution with the federal money allocated toward broadband deployment, he said, adding that he asked the FCC earlier this year to complete its map by fall 2021.

“There’s planning that can take place when the maps are completed” he said, reflecting a desire from the public and private sector for better, more accurate broadband maps.

He also said that federal money allocated toward the FCC’s efforts to bridge the digital divide should be used carefully, and that money to connect unconnected Americas should not be wasted.

Carr celebrated American investment in 5G progress earlier this year, calling U.S. leadership in 5G “one of the greatest success stories in of the past four years.” In that time, the FCC opened up more than six gigahertz of spectrum for 5G services.

Former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly also gave remarks at the event, expressing concern about the federal Made In America policy’s implications on the telecommunications sector.

The Made in America policy refers to President Biden’s push to increase American made content in supply chains. O’Rielly, who left the Commission in December 2020, argued that the policy limits telecommunications companies to the kinds of products that can be made available to consumers.

The Free State Foundation’s Randy May at the Friday event

He also questioned “what it means to be an American manufacturer” because foreign companies are “in essence, being punished by law” for having “investments in the U.S. with U.S. workers as part of a U.S. subsidiary.”

In O’Rielly’s view, the location of the companies headquarters does not impact its national security risk to the U.S.

The remarks by Carr and O’Rielly were at the 15th anniversary celebration for the free-market think tank. Carr said that the foundation has been an “invaluable resource” and has been cited more than 200 times in FCC decisions.

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