FCC says wireless permits automatically granted if local goverments don’t act in 60 days

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If local governments don’t approve certain permit applications for wireless broadband facilities within 60 days, then the FCC says permission is automatically “deemed granted”. That’s one of the new rules limiting how local and state agencies can regulate wireless broadband infrastructure issued by the commission on Friday.

The 60-day time limit affects permit applications for “collocation, removal, or replacement of transmission equipment on an existing wireless tower or base station,” so long as it doesn’t involve a substantial change to the existing structure’s dimensions. That much is clear from the FCC’s press release. But the full order hasn’t been posted yet, so the full extent of the changes is still an unknown.

For now, most of the details are coming from prepared statements issued by the commissioners. Chair Tom Wheeler’s spin is that the order is a wonderful benefit to local governments…

The Order also implements federal statutory directives that are intended to make State and local review more efficient for wireless deployments and modifications.

At the same time, the Order preserves our commitment to safeguard the essential roles that State, local, and Tribal governments play in this process.

For instance, the Order preserves local governments’ authority to adopt and apply the zoning, safety, and concealment requirements that are appropriate for their communities.

Commissioner Ajit Pai, though, was more direct about the FCC’s action

“The Order amends our environmental and historic preservation rules to make it easier to deploy small cells and collocate antennas on existing structures. The Order also makes it clear that our shot-clock rules apply to small cells and DAS and that local moratoria cannot be used to make an end run around those rules. And it adopts a bright-line test for determining which equipment modifications qualify for section 6409’s deemed-grant remedy and makes clear that an applicant can start building on day 61 if a municipality doesn’t act on its application…And once we have some experience in the field with a deemed-granted remedy for infrastructure deployment, I hope we consider extending that remedy to our [tower siting] shot clock.

The devil, though, will be in the details and I’ll post an update when those are available.

UPDATE, 21 October 2014: the report and order has been published:

In the Matter of Acceleration of Broadband Deployment by Improving Wireless Facilities Siting Policies…

Stay tuned.