Tag Archives: wireless

Local agencies get more time to ponder FCC’s wireless weed whacker

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There’s more time to chime in on whether the Federal Communications Commission should consider further preemption of local authority over cell sites and other wireless facilities. Last month, the FCC moved forward on a request to do so made by Mobilitie, a wireless infrastructure company that has pushed the boundaries of ethics, if not legality, and the English language in its aggressive pursuit of permission to, among other things, plant towers in public right of ways.

A group that includes the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors asked for a couple of extra months to respond, and the FCC split the difference and granted a one month extension, to 7 March 2017 for the first round of comments.

So far, there hasn’t been a rush to submit comments. Only about 20 filings have been posted, and one of those is from a local government. Pokomoke City, a small community in Maryland, told a story that’ll be familiar to pretty much any agency that’s dealt with Mobilitie’s campaign to install 70,000 new U.S. cell sites for Sprint

Their initial requests were to locate new pole structures in the middle of our narrow public sidewalks – something we no longer allow. Their next proposal was to apply for a pole location on what appeared to be private property, expecting our small town, 4200, to provide title verification. The third was, after reporting to us that a specific location and height was vital, to then report they had selected a different location and changed height again. Their specs are a constantly moving target, and they wish to bank their infrastructure on the back of the town, rather than pay their way as all of the others do.

Lobbying groups for mobile carriers and wireless Internet service providers submitted preliminary amen comments; the rest appear to come from interested individuals.

FCC waves a wireless weed whacker at local governments

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Honorable mayor and members of the city council…

A bright – or at least brighter – line is likely to be drawn around the discretion local government have to grant permission, or not, to install small cell sites. At the urging of Mobilitie, an aggressive and disingenuous mobile infrastructure company, the Federal Communications Commission is taking a harder look at local and state restrictions on wireless facilities. It’s asking for public comments on whether it should invoke its status as an “expert agency” to cut through conflicting federal court rulings and issue a single set of rules that determine and preempt local government permit review processes regarding wireless sites….

We recognize…that localities play an important role in preserving local interests such as aesthetics and safety. At the same time, the Commission has a statutory mandate to facilitate the deployment of network facilities needed to deliver more robust wireless services to consumers throughout the United States. It is our responsibility to ensure that this deployment of network facilities does not become subject to delay caused by unnecessarily time-consuming and costly siting review processes that may be in conflict with the Communications Act.

The FCC’s notice (click here) correctly points out that 1. small cell deployments can result in periodic floods of permit requests, 2. current procedures in many jurisdictions are designed to accommodate occasional applications for large cellular sites, and 3. small cell sites are frequently simpler, less intrusive and more homogenous than big ones.

Cities and counties need to adapt to this changing environment, but it’s a fair question whether the FCC, which knows a lot of about telecommunications but not so much about land use and right-of-way management, is the right expert for the job. Nevertheless, the FCC seems intent on taking it on. Mobilitie is the trigger, but both the republican and democrat barrels were well loaded ahead of time. Outgoing chair Tom Wheeler promised this review earlier this year, and his republican colleagues – one of which will take up the chairman’s gavel, at least for a time, in the coming administration – have chimed in with a hearty, bipartisan amen.

The first round of comments are due at the FCC on 6 February 2017.

Morgan Hill considers broadband roadmap to catch Silicon Valley

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The City of Morgan Hill, on the edge of Silicon Valley just south of San Jose, does not share its usually good and occasionally excellent broadband infrastructure. Unlike most of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is largely served by AT&T and Comcast, Morgan Hill’s telecom infrastructure is owned by Frontier Communications and Charter Communications, and performs significantly below the Californian average.

Tellus Venture Associates recently completed a telecoms infrastructure element for Morgan Hill’s general plan update. The research, analysis and recommendations were presented to the City Council last night.

Overall, Morgan Hill’s broadband infrastructure gets a “D” grade – 1.0 out of 4.0 on a rating scale originally developed by Tellus Venture Associates for the East Bay Broadband Consortium. By comparison, cities in the Silicon Valley region generally get grades in the “C” to “C-” range, indicating that broadband infrastructure is at or near average for communities in California.

Two online surveys and a workshop conducted during the research phase of the project show that the infrastructure analysis jibes with local perceptions of the broadband service that’s available…

The primary market research conducted for this report indicates that residential and business broadband use and expectations differ in Morgan Hill, but in either case there is a significant amount of dissatisfaction with the choices available.

The City has the greatest amount of influence over greenfield and new or major remodelled infill development, and over work performed in the public right of way. By establishing clear broadband-related requirements for these kinds of projects, the City can encourage the construction of facilities that will support upgraded infrastructure.

The report details a broad range of options available to the City of Morgan Hill or most any other California city, including wireless facilities, planning, dig once, asset management, permitting, smart city, regulatory and operational policy.

The top line recommendation of the report is for the City of Morgan Hill to take a proactive approach to broadband infrastructure development, both by implementing specific policies and generally “for the City to articulate its role in broadband infrastructure planning and development, establish goals and adopt a phased approach to reaching those goals”.

Download City of Morgan Hill 2035 General Plan – Telecommunications Infrastructure here.

California law allows cities to limit mobile carriers, not vice versa

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Necessary fixtures?

Last week’s California appeals court decision affirming local authority to deny permits for wireless facilities, and other telecoms infrastructure, on aesthetic grounds also went a long way towards clarifying what criteria and considerations cities can use when managing use of the public right of way.

The California public utilities code has two sections with different standards for telecoms project review. The first section (7901), which has a hundred year history, says telephone companies may

Construct…telephone lines along and upon any public road or highway…may erect poles, posts, piers, or abutments for supporting the insulators, wires, and other necessary fixtures of their lines, in such manner and at such points as not to incommode the public use of the road or highway.

The second section (7901.1), enacted about 20 years ago, adds

Municipalities shall have the right to exercise reasonable control as to the time, place, and manner in which roads, highways, and waterways are accessed.

In their dispute with the City and County of San Francisco, T-Mobile and partners claimed that the first section meant that they had an unlimited right to plant equipment in the public right of way and the second section meant that the City only had authority to regulate how the construction was done.

The appeals court did not buy that argument. The three judges agreed that the second section only related to construction activities – for example, a city can set specific times for when roads may be blocked – but the first section is what defines the limits that local governments can place on the design and other characteristics of the facilities being built.

In other words, a city can make a judgement as to whether or not, say, a proposed cell site would “incommode the public use of the road”. At least up to a point – the court said that discretion is not limitless. But it can be invoked if a project would “unreasonably subject the public use to inconvenience or discomfort; to unreasonably trouble, annoy, molest, embarrass, inconvenience; to unreasonably hinder, impede, or obstruct the public use”.

This appeals court almost certainly won’t have the last say. The case could go to the California supreme court, or eventually land in a federal court. And, as the appeals court judges themselves said, “of course, if the Legislature disagrees with our conclusions, or wishes to grant the wireless industry further relief from local regulation, it remains free to amend sections 7901 and 7901.1”.

Telcos can’t trouble, annoy, molest, embarrass, inconvenience, hinder, impede or obstruct Californians, court rules

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Don’t bother ugly ducklings, either.

California cities may regulate the aesthetics of cell sites and other wireless telecoms facilities. That was the ruling yesterday from a California appeals court, in a case brought by T-Mobile, Crown Castle and ExteNet against the City and County of San Francisco (h/t to Omar Masry there for the pointer).

The major argument in the case hinged on the definition of use. California law (section 7901 of the public utilities code, if you’re keeping score) says that telephone companies can build infrastructure on “public roads and highways in such manner and at such points as not to incommode the public use”.

T-Mobile and friends said that that San Francisco couldn’t reject a permit for a wireless facility on the basis of appearance. In other words, use of a road has nothing to do with aesthetics and ugly doesn’t incommode anyone.

Not so, said the unanimous opinion of the three first district appeals court judges who decided the case…

Plaintiffs’ argument rests on the faulty assumption that “use” of a public road means nothing beyond transportation thereon. We agree with [a federal appeals court ruling] that public use of the right-of-way is not limited to travel and that streets “may be employed to serve important social, expressive, and aesthetic functions”…

Nothing in section 7901 explicitly prohibits local government from conditioning the approval of a particular siting permit on aesthetic concerns. In our view, “incommode the public use” means “to unreasonably subject the public use to inconvenience or discomfort; to unreasonably trouble, annoy, molest, embarrass, inconvenience; to unreasonably hinder, impede, or obstruct the public use.”

But the ruling also makes clear that there are limits on a local government’s use of aesthetic concerns to regulate cell towers and telecoms facilities. The court said that it might be okay to regulate appearances around, say, Coit Tower and not necessarily in “other parts of the urban landscape”, particularly “an area already cluttered with other electrical and telecommunications equipment”.

Potentially this decision is far reaching and affects all kinds of telecoms infrastructure, wireless and wireline alike. My bet: the final word will eventually come from the California supreme court.

Download the full text of the decision here.

California legislature approves LA fast track wireless reviews, sorta

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The way California law works now, if a permit application for a new cell tower is held up for more than five months because of reviews or challenges resulting from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), then the permit is deemed approved. Yep, regardless of whatever other issues are involved, once the shot clock expires, permission to build a new cell tower is automatically granted.

Suppose, though, that CEQA didn’t apply to…

  1. Antennas, including microwave dishes and arrays.
  2. Antenna support structures.
  3. Equipment enclosures.
  4. Central system switch facilities.
  5. Associated foundations and equipment.

If…

The project site…already contains either of the following:

  • An antenna support structure and either of the following components:
  • Antennas.
  • Equipment enclosures.

Well, that’s the way it’ll continue to work for a next generation public safety radio system in Los Angeles County, assuming it’s happening on public property and it passes a simple environment check. And assuming governor Brown signs senate bill 1008, which landed on his desk last week.

The exemption was originally granted in 2012, and is being extended because it’s taking a really long time to build. It’s also limited, in the grand scheme of things. Big as it it, it’s lilliputian compared to the infrastructure deployed by a typical mobile carrier.

But at its core, there’s a sound principle at work: when time is critical – shot clocks included – chop out the impenetrable undergrowth of endless procedures, reviews and appeals and eliminate obsessive minutia, and instead identify on genuine problems. And solve them quickly. Or deny the application just as fast.

The Federal Communications Commission is preparing for more preemptions of state and local authority over wireless facility colocation and tower construction projects. In order to effectively exercise what little discretion remains, cities and counties can’t be trapped like a kitten in ball of yarn by byzantine statutes and case law that drag decisions out for years.

Expect more federal preemption of local wireless site reviews

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There’s no partisan bickering in Washington over locating cell sites. The great divide is between federal and local governments. After making the obligatory nods toward local communities, top aides to all five FCC commissioners agreed that clearing the path for the millions of new cell sites that 5G networks will require is a top priority. They told the audience at the CTIA’s trade show in Las Vegas yesterday that in order to make 5G work, the cost of constructing cell sites, particularly the time and money required to get permit approval from cities and counties, has to come down.

Limits on access to the public right of way by local governments have to be trimmed back or eliminated completely, restrictions on locations need to go and lengthy permit approval processes have to be shortened, according to one member of the panel or another.

It was an indirect, but unanimous, endorsement of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s statement earlier in the day. Calling 5G networks “a revolution”, he said…

The nature of 5G technology doesn’t just mean more antenna sites, it also means that without such sites the benefits of 5G may be sharply diminished. In the pre-5G world, fending off sites from the immediate neighborhood didn’t necessarily mean sacrificing the advantages of obtaining service from a distant cell site. With the anticipated 5G architecture, that would appear to be less feasible, perhaps much less feasible.

The enemy, in Wheeler’s view, is “nimbyism and the recalcitrance of local authorities”.

There’s a grain of truth in that. There are enough examples of irrational, scorched earth opposition to wireless broadband expansion to fill a book, just in California. But the FCC’s track record, under Wheeler and previous chairs, is one of adopting blanket rules that squash responsible use of local discretion by way of targeting the extreme cases. Quibbling over details aside, it’s clear that he’ll have the full support of republican commissioners, as well as his fellow democrats, when he moves ahead with further federal preemption of local authority over cell site deployment.

If carmakers haven’t figured out wireless in 20 years, they never will

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More unlicensed spectrum for WiFi and other uses will add value to the U.S. economy. That’s the argument FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is making to congress as a matter of general policy and to colleagues as opportunities to reallocate frequency assignments are evaluated.

One immediate thing the Federal Communications Commission can do – and democrat Rosenworcel as well as republicans Michael O’Rielly and Ajit Pai want to do – is to shift 75 MHz of spectrum around 5.9 GHz (5.850 GHz to 5.925 GHz, to be exact) from an unlicensed but otherwise restricted short range, transportation-related allocation to general use. The FCC is in the process of taking comments from interested parties on whether and how it should do it.

As can be expected in Washington, automotive industry lobbyists are making dire warnings about the imminent collapse of western civilisation if they lose the exclusive use of those frequencies, despite the fact that they’ve had the allocation for almost 20 years and done nothing with it.

That argument is nonsense, for three reasons. First, current plans call for retaining a smaller slice for public safety-related transportation purposes. Second, even that isn’t necessary since automakers will still be able to use the entire band, albeit on a shared basis. Third, and most importantly, the wireless ecosystem is far more complex and interdependent than it was 20 years ago. By way of example, Qualcomm recently released specs for its connected car reference platform which will support a mind-numbing array of wireless and networking technologies…

…including Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ X12 and X5 LTE modems, quad-constellation Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and 2D/3D Dead Reckoning (DR) location solutions, Qualcomm® VIVE™ Wi-Fi® technology, Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) for V2X, Bluetooth®, Bluetooth® Low Energy and broadcast capabilities such as analog and digital tuner support using software-defined radio via Qualcomm® tuneX™ chips. In addition, the platform features in-vehicle networking technologies such as Gigabit (OABR) Ethernet with Automotive Audio Bus (A2B) and Controller Area Network (CAN) interfaces.

Translation: nobody needs another obsolete-on-release proprietary wireless technology from carmakers. The sooner this 75 MHz is repurposed, the better for everyone.

Bills to scrap local cell site review and California Public Utilities Commission delayed

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Don’t have to look far to find a horse in Sacramento.

Afternoon update: There’s a growing consensus that AB 2788 is dead, rather than just delayed. Resurrection is always possible while the legislature is in session, though. We’ll know its status for sure, at least its current status, by Monday, if not before.

A proposal to allow mobile carriers to install cell sites pretty much anywhere they want – including on publicly owned property – without meaningful review by local government has been bumped by a week. Assembly bill 2788 will be heard next Monday in the senate energy, utilities and commerce committee, instead of as originally scheduled for today. Likewise, a proposal – assembly constitutional amendment 11 – to ask voters whether they want to eliminate the special status given to the California Public Utilities Commission by the California constitution was also pushed back until Monday.

No reason was given for the delays, however it’s worth noting that both bills are being carried – authored is the term of art – by Los Angeles assemblyman Mike Gatto, who chairs the assembly utilities and commerce committee, which in turn will be considering bills next week by San Diego senator Ben Hueso, who chairs the senate energy, utilities and commerce committee. Since next week is also a notional deadline for getting bills out of committee and a hard deadline for getting measures on the November ballot, it’s a fair guess that there’s some horse trading going on.

Hueso just amended a bill of his own and made it about extending the deadline for the CPUC to spend money set aside to pay for broadband facilities in public housing. Senate bill 745 previously dealt with some arcane aspects of the California Advanced Services Fund, so it’s not quite a gut and amend maneuver, but it is a sharp change of course. He’s also a co-author on a bill – SB 215 – that would tighten rules for how regulated utilities and other interested parties communicate with the CPUC about matters before it. Both of those bills are scheduled to be heard by Gatto’s committee on Tuesday.

Bill forcing California cities to lease cell sites, scrap permits magically appears

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Camouflaged with associated equipment. Can’t get any smaller than that.

Using a legislative maneuver delicately referred to as gut and amend, assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles) transmogrified a bill about natural gas storage into a free pass for mobile phone companies to 1. install cell sites pretty much anywhere they want with little or no oversight by local governments and 2. force local governments to lease publicly owned facilities for the purpose (h/t to Omary Masry at the City and County of San Francisco for the pointer).

Assembly bill 2788 will now, according to the legislative analysis…

Permit the use of a small cell, as defined, without a city or county discretionary permit or aesthetic review in all zoning districts, subject only to a building permit or administrative permit, as applicable. The bill would require a city or county to issue those permits, as applicable, within 60 days, except as specified.

And…

The bill would also prohibit a city or county from precluding the leasing or licensing of a site owned by the city or county for the installation of a small cell, except as specified.

The as specified exceptions are pretty thin, and would mostly serve to delay the inevitable by a month or two. The as defined qualification for small cell status is remarkably big. The antenna would be limited to something like the size of a coffee table (six cubic feet), while the rest of gear could be coffin-sized (21 to 28 cubic feet, depending on location). But the limit doesn’t include “associated” equipment like electric meters, back up batteries and similar, or anything that’s reckoned to be camouflaged or otherwise out of the public view. Wireless companies can install as much of that stuff as they want. Given the current downsizing trend in cell site design, the free pass will apply to the vast majority of installations.

AB 2788 was approved by the assembly back when it was about natural gas, so it’s sitting in the California senate now, where it’s scheduled for a hearing tomorrow in the energy, utilities and communications committee.