Tag Archives: mobile broadband

FCC limits on cell site expansion permits challenged by California cities

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

West sac cell site

California cities are pushing back against the tighter limits on wireless infrastructure permit reviews that the Federal Communications Commission approved in a party line vote earlier this month. Three cities in Los Angeles County – Glendora, Rancho Palos Verde and Torrance – and the California and Oregon leagues of cities filed a challenge to the FCC’s ruling with the San Francisco-based ninth circuit federal appeals court.

The FCC ruling said cities, or other local agencies, can’t delay starting a 60-day federal shot clock and can’t add aesthetic requirements when granting permit for expansions or other additions to cell sites and towers, or other wireless facilities, so long as the changes are within certain limits. In other words, when the work falls under what are usually called the “6409” rules, after the section federal law involved. The FCC said that the 60-day shot clock begins as soon as a wireless company takes the first step in a permit process, whether or not they’ve filed a formal application. If the shot clock expires, the permit is “deemed granted”.

The cities and associations filing the petition for review argued, as might be expected, that the FCC exceeded its authority…

The Commission’s new rules and significant changes to its existing rules unlawfully preempt local and state government authority promulgated without response to the arguments advanced by Petitioners in the record…

Petitioners seek review of the Ruling on the grounds that the Ruling is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.

The cities’ filed on Monday. I haven’t seen any other appeals from any other parts of the U.S. Assuming that’s the case, it’ll be handled by the ninth circuit, which is also considering a similar, but much larger, challenge to the FCC’s 2018 preemption of local ownership of city street light poles.

That case was heard in February, by three ninth circuit judges. There’s no particular timeline for a decision, but they’ve been working on it long enough that it could come at any time. Expect a similar journey of a couple of years for this latest appeal.

T-Mobile asks CPUC for permission to employ fewer people in California

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Sprint store

T-Mobile wants the California Public Utilities Commission to dial back some of the obligations it imposed when it approved the Sprint merger in April. A “petition for modification” of the CPUC’s decision asks for three changes:

  • Strike the order to add 1,000 new jobs in California. As it has consistently argued, T-Mobile says the CPUC doesn’t have that authority. Meanwhile, T-Mobile is offering hundreds of former Sprint employees the, um, opportunity to “consider a career change”.
  • Push back a deadline for “providing average speeds of 300 Mbps to 93% of California” by two years, to 2026. T-Mobile seems to think there was a misunderstanding. It says the clock on its voluntary commitment to reach that service level started running when the merger closed, not when it was first proposed in 2018.
  • Trust the Federal Communications Commission and the California Emerging Technology Fund, which is now on T-Mobile’s payroll to the tune of $7 million a year, to verify 5G coverage and speed promises. As it stands, T-Mobile has to prove its claims using the CPUC’s independent Calspeed testing program.

The modification request won’t have much, if any, of a direct effect on the CPUC’s decision allowing the Sprint merger and the long list of conditions it attached. The request for extra time to meet the 300 Mbps download benchmark might get some consideration, but T-Mobile’s appeal doesn’t say anything new about the requirements to add 1,000 jobs in California and to do speed testing the CPUC’s way.

The deal’s opponents will respond, of course, and the commission will take up T-Mobile’s petition and opponents pending request for a rehearing eventually. Minor tweaks aside, both are likely to be rejected. At that point, the CPUC’s lengthy – two years and counting – process will be complete, which clears the path to court challenges, at the state and federal level. That’s where the real action will happen.

Hundreds of layoffs are following in the wake of the T-Mobile/Sprint deal

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Sprint booth mwc la 2019 22oct2019

T-Mobile is laying off hundreds of former Sprint employees as it consolidates the operations of the two mobile carriers that merged in April. A story by Zack Whittaker and Brian Heater at Tech Crunch broke the news about Sprint employees on Tuesday…

In a conference call on Monday lasting under six minutes, T-Mobile vice president James Kirby told hundreds of Sprint employees that their services were no longer needed. He declined to answer his employees’ questions, citing the “personal” nature of employee feedback, and ended the call.

T-Mobile responded with a press release in which it claimed it would “add 5,000 new positions over the next year”, but for now it wanted to “focus” its resources…

This will result in additional career opportunities for many, as the company positions itself for long-term healthy growth. As part of this process, some employees who hold similar positions are being asked to consider a career change inside the company, and others will be supported in their efforts to find a new position outside the company.

Translation: yeah, we’re firing them.

These involuntary “career changes” should come as no surprise. During the California Public Utilities Commission’s review of the merger, T-Mobile promised on the one hand to keep its combined California workforce at the same level for the next three years, while on the other hand agreeing to open a new call center in Fresno County that would employ 1,000 people. Do the math.

The CPUC did the math, and required T-Mobile to make those 1,000 call center jobs a net addition to the combined T-Mobile/Sprint headcount as of the merger date. Whether or not that order has any teeth is unknown. T-Mobile has consistently maintained that the commission has no authority over its wireless business, and matched those words with deeds.

Even bigger job cuts are coming at AT&T. It’s primary union, the Communications Workers of America, says 3,400 AT&T employees are about to be out of work, and hundreds of wireless stores will close, according to a story in FierceWireless by Bevin Fletcher.

CPUC “wireless resiliency” plan targets mobile carriers, doesn’t exempt WISPs

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Cpuc fire threat map 11jun2020

Click for the interactive fire threat map.

Mobile carriers – AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile – will have to install emergency generators at their cell sites in high fire danger areas, if the California Public Utilities Commission approves a draft decision offered last week by president Marybel Batjer. They’ll also have to meet other requirements intended to insure “wireless resiliency” during emergencies, natural or man-made, including public safety power shut-offs.

The proposed rules would apply to “facilities-based wireless providers” and require them “to maintain a minimum level of service and coverage to provide access to 911, 211, to receive emergency notifications, and access web browsing for emergency notices”.

As it’s commonly used in the industry, and by the CPUC when it refers to “broadband providers”, “facility-based” is a term that includes fixed wireless Internet service providers (WISPs). The hundred-plus page draft doesn’t explicitly limit its definition of facilities-based wireless providers to mobile carriers, although the context clearly does. There’s no mention of WISPs and the legalese leans heavily on the CPUC’s authority over telephone service, even to the point of anachronistically asserting “the public has an expectation that they will hear a dial tone on their wireless device”.

On the other hand, if the intent was to apply the rules specifically to mobile carriers – a jurisdictionally fraught notion – it would have been relatively simple to do so. Instead, the draft cites the CPUC’s role in regulating 911 services (which can be delivered via mobile and VoIP technology) issuing licenses – certificates of public convenience and necessity (CPCNs) – to telecoms companies of all kinds, and its “broad jurisdiction” over “other communications utilities”.

Going forward, it could be argued that a WISP that holds a CPCN or offers VoIP service – or maybe just provides “web browsing for emergency notices” – also must meet wireless resiliency standards. There’s no clear authority for the CPUC to regulate WISPs as such, and it hasn’t done so. The proposed decision pushes further into the grey area, though.

More clarity could be on the way. Senate bill 1058 would extend emergency service obligations to “every Internet service provider” in California. We’ll know later this week whether Californian legislative leaders deem it worthy of consideration by the full senate. And the CPUC is just getting started. The proposed wireless resiliency order says a future commission decision “will consider promulgating resiliency requirements for other telecommunications providers”.

Wireless resiliency, according to the draft, means…

The ability to recover from or adjust to adversity or change through an array of strategies including, but not limited to: backup power, redundancy, network hardening, temporary facilities, communication and coordination with other utilities, emergency responders, the public and finally, preparedness planning.

Specifically, wireless providers would have to install back-up power capable of keeping their networks up for at least 72 hours, but only in the parts of their service areas that are classified as “tier 2 and tier 3 high fire threat districts”. As the CPUC’s interactive map shows, that includes most of the California coast, the Sierra Nevada, the Cascades and large swaths of the southland.

All wireless providers, not just those in high fire threat areas, would have to file resiliency plans “that detail their ability to maintain a minimum level of service and coverage during a disaster or a commercial power grid outage”, as well as “annual emergency operations plans”.

The commission could vote on the proposed rules as soon as mid-July. In the meantime, it’ll be accepting public comments on the draft.

Proposed Decision of Commissioner Batjer Adopting Wireless Provider Resiliency Strategies, 11 June 2020

Tight limits on local review of cell site expansions just got tighter, as FCC widens preemptions

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Marina cell sites 625

On a party line vote last week – republicans yes, democrats no – the Federal Communications Commission further preempted local government control over wireless facilities such as cell sites and towers. The ruling tightens enforcement of a 60-day shot clock for local permit approval of what it reckons to be minor modifications to a site. If time expires, the permit is "deemed granted. It also bans additional aesthetic requirements and widens a loophole that allows wireless companies to escape existing ones.

The first draft of the new rules was published last month, and despite a flood of objections from local governments, nothing much changed. The final version tweaks the definition of the trigger that starts the 60-day shot clock. It begins running when two things happen:

  1. An applicant “takes the first procedural step that the local jurisdiction requires”, which could be a meeting with staff to discuss the project, although the FCC considers the step taken when the company makes “a written request to schedule the meeting”. The same applies to things like community meetings or planning reviews – the 60 days starts ticking down as soon as the request for such is made.
  2. “The applicant submits written documentation showing that a proposed modification is an eligible facilities request” – in other words, is a minor collocation of transmission equipment on an existing structure, as defined by congress and the FCC. The local agency doesn’t have to buy off on the claim or consider the documentation complete. The company just has to file its arguments.

A tight limit on concealment requirements also got some minor editing, although it didn’t satisfy objections raised by local governments or commissioner Geoffrey Starks, a democrat. New concealment or stealthing measures can’t be imposed, and existing requirements can only be enforced if there is “express evidence in the record to demonstrate that a locality considered in its approval that a stealth design for a telecommunications facility would look like something else, such as a pine tree, flag pole, or chimney”. The new rules are not workable, Starks said in his dissent

In many cases, local governments approved sites years ago, well before passage of the Spectrum Act. Particularly for smaller cities, it’s unlikely that their decisions explain the intent behind a particular requirement affecting a site’s appearance. Yet today’s Declaratory Ruling states that, unless the regulator can provide express evidence in the record demonstrating that a requirement was intended to disguise the nature of the equipment as something other than a wireless facility, the local government must give streamlined treatment to any changes. Moreover, for changes in appearance that don’t disguise the nature of the equipment but merely make it harder to notice, the Declaratory Ruling establishes a standard that effectively preempts any requirement that the applicant claims it cannot reasonably meet…

Doing this via a Declaratory Ruling will place an undue burden on local governments that are unfamiliar with the Commission. A clerk in a small city may not realize that a proposed site modification will require her to review not only the Code of Federal Regulations but the language of this decision and our 2014 order.

The FCC’s decision also begins the next phase of its campaign to end local discretion over cell sites and other wireless facilities. It’s considering allowing companies to expand the boundaries of “an existing facility…up to 30 feet in any direction”, under the same shall approve within 60 days rule. It’s asking for public comments, but not offering much time – 20 days after the notice is published in the federal register, with reply comments due 30 days after that.

Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Implementation of State and Local Governments’ Obligation to Approve Certain Wireless Facility Modification Requests, 9 June 2020

T-Mobile rejects Californian conditions on Sprint deal, tells CPUC it has “no jurisdiction”

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Tmobile san francisco 18may2019

T-Mobile has chosen the path of regulatory defiance in California. It passed on yesterday’s deadline for challenging the California Public Utilities Commission’s decision to impose tough conditions on its acquisition of Sprint. That doesn’t mean it’s staying silent or that the matter is closed. Quite the contrary. T-Mobile responded to a procedural challenge from opponents of the deal with sharp words, and set itself up for a fight at the CPUC and in state and federal courts that will continue for years to come.

Earlier this month, opponents appealed the decision, asking for a rehearing because, well, the commission didn’t completely accept their arguments the first time around. Their request keeps the procedural ball rolling toward an inevitable jump to state and federal courts, but it doesn’t break new ground.

T-Mobile lashed out at the rehearing request in a response filed just before the three-day Memorial Day weekend. The fact that T-Mobile disagrees with its opponents isn’t surprising, or even particularly newsworthy. What’s interesting about the reply is the way T-Mobile dismisses the decision by saying, in effect, the CPUC doesn’t have the authority to tell us what to do, so we don’t care what they say

While [T-Mobile and Sprint] stand by their voluntary commitments made to this Commission, they submit – as they have from the outset of these proceedings – that the Commission has no jurisdiction to approve or deny the transfer of control of [Sprint’s wireless business], or to make its approval contingent on the imposition of mandatory conditions. Thus, the very premise of the [opponents’ rehearing reuqest], i.e., that the merger could be denied by the Commission but, failing that, should or could be subject to additional Commission-mandated conditions, is fatally flawed because the Commission lacks jurisdiction to do either…

The Commission lacks the authority to “approve” (or “deny”) the wireless transactions or to otherwise impose mandatory conditions on it. That power is reserved to the FCC under the plain language of the Communications Act and general principles of federal preemption. Thus, the Commission may not second-guess the FCC’s determination that the merger is in the public interest subject to the conditions it deemed appropriate or otherwise require additional mandatory conditions specific to California.

The response contains approving words for some of the California-specific requirements imposed by the CPUC, but in the context of refuting opponents’ claims that the commission’s decision lacks sufficient enforcement measures. Taken as a whole, T-Mobile’s stance is the same as it was when it started its CPUC odyssey nearly two years ago, as it was throughout the proceeding, and as it was when it defied the CPUC and completed the merger without permission. It doesn’t accept Californian authority over its mobile business and has only offered to “stand by” its “voluntary commitments”.

Sooner rather than later, T-Mobile will ignore one of the CPUC’s conditions or blow off requests to comply. That’ll trigger a (likely) lengthy enforcement process that T-Mobile will try to steer towards the “federal preemption” that it is counting on.

Links to arguments, exhibits and other paperwork filed at the CPUC and elsewhere are here.

My clients include California cities who do business with T-Mobile. I like to think that has no bearing on my commentary. Take it for what it’s worth.

AT&T continues 5GEvolution scam despite advertising industry’s slapdown

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Att customer evolution

A self-regulating body set up by the advertising industry slapped down AT&T’s strategy of conning mobile subscribers into thinking that they’re getting 5G service when they’re really connected to a 4G network. The National Advertising Review Board (NARB), which is run by the Better Business Bureau, concluded that AT&T’s decision to slap a “5G Evolution” label or, more confusingly, a 5GE icon, on its LTE service is misleading and that “consumers may well interpret “Evolution” in the challenged claims as signifying that AT&T’s technology has already evolved into 5G”. Which it hasn’t yet, and won’t for many years to come.

Not fully.

NARB recommended that AT&T pull the offending ads. AT&T isn’t obligated to follow the recommendation, and it didn’t.

Not fully.

A Lightreading.com article by Mike Dano reports that AT&T will drop the offending ads, but will still display the deceptive 5GE icon on phones that are connected to its 4G LTE network…

“AT&T respectfully disagrees with the reasoning and result reached by the panel majority,” the operator said in a statement to Light Reading. “AT&T’s customers nationwide continue to benefit from dramatically superior speeds and performance that its current network provides. As a supporter of the self-regulatory process, however, AT&T will comply with the NARB’s decision.”

But AT&T said the NARB’s recommendation only applies to its advertising and therefore will not affect the one element that really matters: Its service icon.

AT&T’s justification for the 5GE branding is that its 4G network is so wicked fast that it might as well be 5G. That’s not true, as independent testing has shown. But that’s not something that weighs heavily on the minds of AT&T’s corporate brand managers, or that will be obvious to the vast majority of its customers.

It should be noted that AT&T is not the only mobile carriers making dubious advertising claims. A quick look at recent NARB decisions shows that T-Mobile (which filed the original complaint against AT&T) and Verizon have likewise attracted its disapproval.

FCC draft ruling takes away more local control over wireless sites

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Salinas windmill cell site

Pre-application requirements for some wireless facilities permits would be effectively banned by a draft ruling posted yesterday by the Federal Communications Commission. It would also expand limits on some antenna sizes and scale back concealment measures that some cities use to maintain aesthetic standards.

The draft declaratory ruling and notice of proposed rulemaking applies to some situations when mobile carriers and other wireless companies seek permission to add equipment to existing towers and the surrounding area. It’s sometimes referred to as the “6409” rule, after the section of federal law that it’s based on. I won’t try to explain it here. The flowchart below illustrates the complexity of federal and state restrictions on wireless permit processing. The box circled in blue is the particular FCC regulation involved. Click to get my white paper that tries to sort it all out.

In that set of circumstances, local governments have 60 days to approve a permit application or it’s “deemed granted”. Denying the permit application is not allowed. The FCC set those parameters in 2014 during the Obama administration, and since then wireless companies and local governments have been arguing about things like precise definitions of “separation from the nearest existing antenna” and what it takes to “defeat” concealment requirements. The FCC’s draft ruling addresses those issues, too.

When that 60-day shot clock begins is particularly contentious. For example, some cities require companies to consult with staff or neighborhood groups before permit applications can be filed. Others might require multiple permits from different city departments. Cities often take the position that the shot clock doesn’t begin until those preliminary steps are done and an actual (and complete) application is submitted.

Not so, says the FCC’s draft ruling: “an applicant has effectively submitted a request for approval that triggers the running of the shot clock when…the applicant takes the first procedural step that the local jurisdiction requires as part of its applicable regulatory review process” and documents that the facilities it proposes to install meet the 6409 rule’s criteria.

In other words, there’s no such thing as a pre-application period. Once a wireless company takes any required step, time starts running. And there’s only one shot clock per city. Once it’s triggered, every permit has to be approved in 60 days.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the draft at its next meeting on 9 June 2020. There’s a window of opportunity to submit comments, but substantive changes are unlikely – although democrat and republican commissioners might quibble about details, there’s a long and strong history of bipartisan support for wireless permit streamlining at the FCC.

T-Mobile/Sprint deal opponents ask CPUC for a California do over, while T-Mobile sits it out for now

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

The wrangling over T-Mobile’s take over of Sprint continues in California. Yesterday, three organisations that stood against the merger during the nearly two years that it was under review asked the California Public Utilities Commission to reconsider its 16 April 2020 approval. But T-Mobile didn’t.

The CPUC’s public advocates office, TURN (lately standing for The Utility Reform Network) and the Greenlining Institute filed a joint application for rehearing that rehashes the arguments and evidence they previously offered in their failed bid to kill the transaction. Commissioners will go through the motions of considering the request, but there’s little chance that they’ll change their mind.

But once the rehearing is denied, the final procedural box will be ticked at the CPUC, and opponents will be free to challenge the decision in a court – likely a Californian court. The legal basis for their appeal is a section of California public utilities law that tasks the CPUC with ensuring that mergers of public utilities are “in the public interest”, do not “adversely affect competition” and, if there are any “significant adverse consequences”, impose “mitigation measures” that fix the problem. It’s no surprise that opponents believe none of that happened, and that the CPUC’s decision “contains numerous inconsistent and contradictory statements and analysis that fail to support its findings of fact and conclusions of law”, another potential legal defect that an appeals court might consider.

Yesterday was a deadline for requesting a rehearing of the T-Mobile/Sprint deal, which T-Mobile seems to have ignored. That could mean a couple things. T-Mobile might want to make a point by waiting until the next deadline – 27 May 2020 – which is for requesting rehearings of matters that don’t involve mergers, since it never conceded that the CPUC has the jurisdiction to rule on the transaction. Or it’ll put off going to court until the CPUC tries to enforce some of the conditions it imposed, like telling T-Mobile to add 1,000 jobs to its newly combined Californian workforce.

One thing you can bet on: T-Mobile isn’t going to meekly submit to the State of California’s professed authority.

Links to arguments, exhibits and other paperwork filed at the CPUC and elsewhere are here.

My clients include California cities who do business with T-Mobile. I like to think that has no bearing on my commentary. Take it for what it’s worth.

With new money and gear now committed, California might close student connectivity gap. If

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Home schooling

More money and in-kind donations are on the way from companies, foundations and the California Public Utilities Commission to close the divide between school kids who can get online and stay in school, and those who can’t. According to a press release from governor Gavin Newsom’s office, when previous announcements are added in, a total of $42 million has been pledged, along with 100,000 mobile network-enabled hotspots, 24,000 tablets and 13,000 Chromebooks.

Using the same guesstimated back-of-the-envelope and egregiously rounded math I used earlier this week, that will just about take care of the 200,000 or so Californian kids that the state education department says need a laptop or tablet and an Internet connection to do their school work.

If.

If my assumption of two students per household isn’t too high, and my guesstimates for average costs (see below) are in the ballpark.

If the money is used for the dreary purpose of buying equipment and service, and not diverted to backfill schools’ and non-profit organisations’ budgets or to fund the training programs that occupy them in normal times. Training is important, but when the ship is sinking the first priority is making sure everyone has a lifeboat. You can teach the kids celestial navigation and certify their parents as sailing masters once they’re safely aboard.

If similarly priced connectivity solutions can be found for rural school districts where baseline mobile broadband service is thin or non-existent.

If the restrictions on CPUC money don’t scupper the whole plan. Most of the money – $25 million – comes from the California Teleconnect Fund, which will only pick up half the cost of equipment and service, at most. In very round terms it’s in the ballpark, but that money will have to be creatively managed to make sure nothing is left on the table. Same with the $5 million earmarked from the California Advanced Services Fund – AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Frontier and friends did their best in Sacramento to make sure that piggy bank doesn’t benefit anyone other than themselves.

There might even be help coming from the federal government, which could solve any remaining funding problems or gaps. Efforts are underway in congress to loosen restrictions on the E-rate program managed by the Federal Communications Commission and to funnel more dollars into it. Those rules are likewise written and loved by the monopoly model incumbents that deploy battalions of lobbyists with bags of cash for friendly lawmakers.

Item                 Unit costTotal needed (@ 2 students/home)In kind donationsTo be purchasedCash needed
Mobile hotspot$8494,000100,0000$0
Mobile service$26094,000094,000$24,440,000
Laptop/tablet$275101,50037,00064,500$17,737,500
Total$42,177,500

But us two space cadets are doing this by eyeballing it, using Tennessee windage, an aerospace almanac, a Mickey Mouse watch, and an SR–50 Pop discarded years ago. RAH.