Tag Archives: wireless

FCC considers clearing a path through federal reviews for small cells

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Small cell sites and similarly sized wireless facilities will be able to skip federal environmental and historic preservation reviews if, as expected, the Federal Communications Commission okays new rules at its meeting later this month. As drafted, the FCC report and order would exempt “small wireless facilities” from studies and paperwork required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. Those requirements were established many years ago, when the assumption was that a cell site was a big tower with lots of big antennas – what’s called a macro cell site today.

The FCC’s definition of a small wireless facility is specific – and generous – in some respects, but vague in others. Poles could be at least 50 feet, but if taller then no more than 10% higher than existing structures. Any single antenna could be no more than three cubic feet – suitcase size – but there’s no limit on the number of antennas. Nor on the amount of other equipment that can be installed, except that it can be “no larger than necessary for the operation of the small wireless facility”.

Facilities that fall within these specs would only be exempt from federal environmental and historical reviews – the FCC carefully notes that “small wireless facilities deployments would continue to be subject to currently applicable state and local government approval requirements”. That includes the California Environmental Quality Act as well as city and county permitting criteria.

That’s just for now, though. The FCC is listening to mobile carriers and big telcos and cable companies, which dominate its broadband deployment advisory committee. They’re meeting again next month, and could finalise recommendations for preempting state and local reviews, as well as a de facto ban on municipal broadband systems. The FCC isn’t obligated to accept those recommendations, but at least one member of the commission’s republican majority – Michael O’Rielly – is positively giddy at the prospect.

Eliminating unnecessary reviews is an excellent idea, and the FCC’s draft does a good job of injecting some common sense into federal regulations. Which is what the FCC is supposed to do. State and local governments have their own jobs to do, too. The FCC should leave them to it.

Mobile phone radiation limits are safe, FDA concludes following ten year study

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Mobile phones don’t significantly increase the risk of cancer, given current safety limits. That’s the federal Food and Drug Administration’s assessment of two long term studies recently completed by the National Institutes of Health.

Rats and mice were exposed to higher-than-allowed levels – up to six-times as much – of radio frequency radiation for nine hours a day for two years. According to the NIH, only one significant negative effect was observed, and only in male rats…

High exposure to radio frequency radiation (RFR) in rodents resulted in tumors in tissues surrounding nerves in the hearts of male rats, but not female rats or any mice, according to draft studies from the National Toxicology Program (NTP)…

“The levels and duration of exposure to RFR were much greater than what people experience with even the highest level of cell phone use, and exposed the rodents’ whole bodies. So, these findings should not be directly extrapolated to human cell phone usage,” said John Bucher, Ph.D., NTP senior scientist. “We note, however, that the tumors we saw in these studies are similar to tumors previously reported in some studies of frequent cell phone users.”

Based on those findings, the FDA concluded that “we have not found sufficient evidence that there are adverse health effects in humans caused by exposures at or under the current radio frequency energy exposure limits”.

Research will continue into the possible effects of holding a mobile phone up against a human head for extended periods of time, as it should. But there’s an important distinction to be made: the level of radiation from a mobile phone in direct contact with skin is thousands (millions?) of times greater than the RF energy that same skin would absorb from a big cell tower or a small cell facility mounted closer to the ground.

By all the evidence, that risk is zero.

NTP technical report on the toxicology and carcinogenesis studies in B6C3F1/N mice exposed to whole-body radio frequency radiation at a frequency (1,900 MHz) and modulations (GSM and CDMA) used by cell phones.

NTP technical report on the toxicology and carcinogenesis studies in Hsd:Sprague Dawley SD rats exposed to whole-body radio frequency radiation at a frequency (900 MHz) and modulations (GSM and CDMA) used by cell phones.

The planning-optional Trump administration has no plan to nationalise U.S. telecoms

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The proposal to build a national, federally owned and operated 5G network grabbed a lot of attention early yesterday morning – it was a better wake-up jolt than a double espresso – but as the day went on it became clear that it was an out of the box analytical exercise by low level staff and not an actual plan. Axios broke the news on Sunday night, posting a slide deck and white paper prepared by national security staff that made the argument for clearing off 500 MHz of spectrum in the 4 GHz range and deploying a coast-to-coast, made-in-America 5G network that’s presumably more secure than off the shelf infrastructure made abroad.

The core argument was that China has the lead in 5G and artificial intelligence technology, and the U.S. needs to do something about it. Side benefits included quicker rural broadband upgrades – the paper assumed the network could be completed in three years – and an end to city by city bickering over permits and access to right of ways and poles.

Industry reaction largely amounted to huh? AT&T’s corporate statement urged gratitude for “multi-billion dollar investments made by American companies”, but forgot to mention the multi-billion dollar subsidies private telecoms companies are getting from federal and state governments. Weird.

The most robust defence of the telecoms industry came from the Federal Communications Commission. Four out of the five commissioners slammed the plan – Jessica Rosenworcel declined to rise to the bait.

But a nationalised wireless system can’t be ruled out in an administration that lurches from one random policy to another. The project was touted as an information age version of the Interstate highway system that was launched in the 1950s and largely completed within 25 years. It was pushed through on national defence grounds by president Dwight Eisenhower, who had been thinking about a unified federal highway network since 1919, when he spent two months in an Army convoy averaging 6 miles an hour, travelling from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco. Maybe president Donald Trump had a similar seminal experience: trying to tweet from the back nine at Mar-a-Lago perhaps?

5G now a matter of national security, Trump administration decides

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Telecommunications is one of the sorts of infrastructure that the Trump administration wants to improve, but its interest seems limited to upgrading wireless infrastructure for eventual 5G service. That support might only include regulatory reform, particularly federal preemption of state and local laws and property rights, rather than money.

It’s hard to tell exactly what the Trump administration means when it puts out statements about spending plans, telecommunications or otherwise. And it’s impossible to know what congress will ultimately do. That said, the National Security Strategy paper released last week links telecommunications infrastructure upgrades with security policy, although the intended funding source could be telecoms companies and state and local governments, and not necessarily the feds…

Federal, state, and local governments will work together with private industry to improve our airports, seaports and waterways, roads and railways, transit systems, and telecommunications. The United States will use our strategic advantage as a leading natural gas producer to transform transportation and manufacturing. We will improve America’s digital infrastructure by deploying a secure 5G Internet capability nationwide. These improvements will increase national competitiveness, benefit the environment, and improve our quality of life.

It’s possible to read this as evidence that the Trump administration is swallowing the nonsense that mobile carriers are peddling about 5G being the ultimate replacement for all things broadband. That’s a stretch, but shouldn’t be completely dismissed, either. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

The big impact is that tying wireless infrastructure to national security gives a political boost to the Federal Communications Commission as it speeds toward even greater preemption of state and local control over wireless site permits and, perhaps, municipal property such as light poles. It also puts a veneer of respectability on even more radical recommendations made by industry-centric committees that are advising the FCC, including a de facto ban on municipal broadband systems() and confiscation of city-owned dark fiber.

The FCC will have bulletproof cover to hide behind, and a strong argument to make during the inevitable court challenges to any new wireless policy it makes. National security is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a trump card in domestic policy debates.

Sneak peek at FCC’s pending preemption of local wireless reviews?

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Some poles are history.

The Federal Communications Commission might have given us a preview of what its intended preemption of state and local discretion over wireless sites will look like. Later this month, commissioners will vote on whether or not to exempt replacement utility poles, that are used to support new wireless facilities, from historical preservation reviews. At the top level, it’s about extending an existing historical review exemption for towers to utility poles that aren’t presently supporting wireless equipment. (As a practical matter, pretty much any pole that’s being used for wireless purposes already qualifies as a tower).

But it isn’t much of a leap to read the narrow language regarding historical reviews, and imagine it being turned into the basis for a general preemption of state and local laws…

Small cell antennas are much smaller and less obtrusive than traditional antennas mounted on macro cell towers, but a far larger number of them will be needed to accomplish the network densification that providers need, both in order to satisfy the exploding consumer demand for wireless data for existing services and in order to implement advanced technologies such as 5G. We find that excluding the pole replacements at issue here from review under [historical preservation regulations] will allow providers to complete these deployments more efficiently. In addition, creating an exclusion for replacement of utility poles will promote consistency between the process that carriers and pole constructors must follow to comply with our historic preservation review requirements and those they must follow when building replacement poles that are subject to the requirements of other agencies applying [rules regarding federal lands].

Under the terms of the draft FCC order, if replacement poles aren’t of historical interest themselves and are “situated in the same hole as the original pole, are no more than 10 percent taller than the original pole, and are consistent with the quality and appearance of the original pole”, they will be exempt from historical preservation requirements. For now, the FCC isn’t extending another exemption criteria – “20 feet plus the height of an antenna array” – to replacement poles, but only because of the potential impact on historical sites.

This effort at the FCC is separate from a push in the U.S. senate to effectively wipe out local government property rights and strictly limit permit authority regarding poles and other vertical assets targeted by wireless companies.

Any bets on how the FCC’s general preemption of wireless site reviews will eventually read?

FCC commissioner signals more preemption of state, local wireless review

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Well that didn’t take long. Just a couple of working days after a pair of U.S. senators introduced a modest and sane bill to streamline federal permitting for wireless projects – S–1988, aka the Speed Act – there’s a call to double down and go after state and local approval processes too. Except it’s not from a lobbyist or trade association that wants to add perks to the bill.

It’s from someone who already has the authority to big foot state and local authority at will, at least if he can convince a couple of his colleagues to go along with it. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, one of the three republicans who form the majority on the Federal Communications Commission, released a statement yesterday that makes it clear that he’s ready to move, full speed ahead…

I applaud Senators Wicker and Cortez Masto for introducing the SPEED Act. This bipartisan effort to ease and accelerate the deployment of broadband technology would put an end to some of the excessive delays industry experiences when siting facilities. While this is a helpful first step, it reaffirms my belief that preemption is necessary to prevent unnecessary and costly barriers to small cell deployment.

Just to be clear, what Wicker (R – Mississippi) and Cortez Masto (D – Nevada) are proposing isn’t preemption. They are federal lawmakers who are proposing a change to the way that federal agencies enforce federal environmental and historical standards. That’s their job.

The Speed Act would have a greater impact in states that rely on federal rules as default policy, but that’s a choice policymakers in those states have made and they’re free to change their minds at any time. Here in California, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) generally governs. It has serious problems – even Jerry Brown once said that to reform CEQA is to do “the Lord’s work” – but fixing it is our job, not DC’s.

The FCC has a proceeding underway that began life tilted toward the presumption that state and local governments would face further preemption of wireless siting discretion. O’Rielly is signalling that the tilt has turned into a dive.

The hunt is on for a “balanced solution” to preemption of local wireless discretion

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Preemption of municipal ownership of street lights and other vertical infrastructure failed in Sacramento this year because of overreach, not because there’s fundamental opposition to the concept. Mobile carriers and other telecoms companies will deploy bus loads of lobbyists armed with bags of cash sincerely worded nonsense arguments to push it through again next year.

The California legislature approved senate bill 649 by a slim, but sufficient, margin. Governor Jerry Brown finally nixed it, but said in his veto message that “there is something of real value in having a process that results in extending this innovative technology rapidly and efficiently”.

It’ll be back. The question is what will it look like?

One clue comes from a senate committee hearing this past May. After flying through the senate energy, utilities and communications committee – chaired by the bill’s author, Ben Hueso (D – San Diego) – SB 649 landed in the governance and finance committee. It’s supposed to look after concerns of local governments, and at least some senators – Mike McGuire (D – Sonoma County) chief among them – took that responsibility seriously.

A somewhat less one-sided version was negotiated with lobbyists for mobile carriers, and then approved by the governance and finance committee. It wasn’t enough to bring city and county associations on board, but it does offer a clue as to what might qualify as the “more balanced solution” Brown wants. One key provision allowed local agencies to charge $850 a year for wireless equipment attachments to street lights, traffic signals and other vertical assets, instead of the $250 annual lease payment that was eventually approved.

In some Californian cities, $850 would still be below market rates, but statewide it wouldn’t be the complete gift to wireless companies that SB 649 eventually became. Combined with more generous allowances for cities and counties to hold particular assets off the market for their own reasons, it might be just enough tip the balance.

Wireless lobbyists will keep swinging in the California legislature

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By Fcb981 (Own work) [GFDL (https://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Senate bill 649 is dead, following a late night veto by California governor Jerry Brown. In his veto message, he was sympathetic to the needs of mobile carriers and other wireless providers, but called for a better balance with the interests local governments have in managing the public right of way.

Translation: try again next year, with something that’s not quite so one-sided.

It’s a sure bet that wireless carriers and their lobbying fronts will be back, along with cable companies, wireline telcos and their lobbyists looking for their slice of the bacon. It won’t be hard to find a biddable legislator – several come to mind – who will simply regurgitate whatever nonsense he’s given. Or she, but so far it’s been the guys who have carried the major local preemption bills at the behest of wireless carriers.

This year it was Ben Hueso (D – San Diego), the chair of the senate energy, utilities and communication committee, who “authored” SB 649, and vigorously, if not always coherently, defended it.

Last year it was assemblyman Mike Gatto (D – Los Angeles), likewise chair of a key committee – what was then the assembly utilities and commerce committee. He waited until the middle of the session to gut and amend an unrelated bill – AB 2788 – and turn it into something that looked a lot like what SB 649 became. Gatto didn’t have the mojo to get it passed; AB 2788 withered away in the senate without a vote.

In 2015, assemblyman Bill Quirk carried AB 57, which rolled back local discretion over wireless siting, and put deemed approved teeth into federal “shot clocks”. It was signed into law by Brown, and now cities and counties have three to five months to approve wireless site applications, with some allowance for brief pauses. Otherwise, those applications are automatically granted. Quirk was also a principal co-author of SB 649 and successfully carried AB 1145 this year. That bill gave cable companies access to public money usually reserved for public utilities, but without the corresponding obligations.

Gatto left the legislature last year, but is considered likely to be running for something next year, perhaps a statewide office. Hueso and Quirk will be back, though.

Google Fiber gives up on video, and maybe fiber too

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Google Fiber is throwing in towel on video service. In a blog post, the company announced that it won’t be offering a cable-like lineup of television channels along with gigabit Internet service in Louisville and San Antonio…

We’re trying something new in our next two Fiber cities. When we begin serving customers in Louisville and San Antonio, we’ll focus on providing superfast Internet – and the endless content possibilities that creates – without the traditional TV add on.

If you’ve been reading the business news lately, you know that more and more people are moving away from traditional methods of viewing television content. Customers today want to control what, where, when, and how they get content. They want to do it their way, and we want to help them.

Two years ago, a top Google Fiber executive, Milo Medin, said “if you don’t offer a good TV service your ability to compete with incumbents that bundle Internet and TV together is significantly impaired”.

So, what changed? A couple of things.

It’s certainly true that the availability of unbundled video content available directly via the Internet has grown considerably in the past two years, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. Declaring linear video subscriptions to be a legacy business and letting cable and satellite companies wrestle over its (slowly) dwindling remains simplifies Google Fiber’s operations and business model, and eliminates a lot of headaches. That alone could be a good trade for the potential subscribers they might lose as a result.

But something else changed, too. In the past two years, Google Fiber has become, in effect, Google Fiber and Wireless. Technically, it’s easy to add a hundred or two TV channels to a fiber-based service, but impossible on a terrestrial wireless system that has orders of magnitude less total bandwidth available. Google’s announcement should also be treated as another indicator that in the future the company is going to be even more selective about where it builds fiber to the home infrastructure. If it even installs any more fiber at all.

California legislature to grant redlining absolution to mobile industry

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Mobile carriers don’t redline neighborhoods or communities on the basis of income levels. That declaration is the latest present to go under the Senate Bill 649 christmas tree as it nears a final decision in the state legislature. The primary aim of the bill is to give wireless companies open access to street light poles and other “vertical infrastructure” owned by cities and counties in California, at below market rates.

New language tightening up definitions was added to SB 649 in preparation for a floor vote by the California assembly. Some of the bill’s benefits will only be available to licensed mobile carriers, rather than any wireless Internet service provider that comes along, and it further narrows the ability of local governments to restrict cell site construction on aesthetic grounds.

To justify these gifts to the mobile industry, lawmakers included language praising mobile carriers…

The Legislature further finds and declares that wireless service providers deploy small cells to areas based on demand for services regardless of the income characteristics of the areas, that this act will complement efforts to close the digital divide by creating a framework that will incentivize private industry to invest or accelerate investment in the deployment of small cells, and that this act will complement current state and federal government efforts to subsidize the deployment of broadband.

There are a couple of problems with this statement. It’s microeconomic nonsense to say that demand isn’t connected to income levels. So if lower income levels lead to lower demand in a given area, then mobile carriers won’t improve service: less income = less demand = less infrastructure investment.

It also ignores the fact that, in addition to being a mobile carrier, AT&T is also by far the largest traditional telco in California and, according to a U.C. Berkeley study, it does redline wireline customers in poorer communities. AT&T’s solution is to replace ageing wireline networks with low capacity wireless systems, while upgrading to fiber in high potential neighborhoods. That will be a digital divide that the California legislature will never be able to close, even if it wanted to try.