California cities upsetting FCC commissioner Ajit Pai

“It was Milton Friedman who recognized years ago that the market provides a better way,” said Ajit Pai, who became an FCC commissioner in May as a Republican nominee. “Our deregulatory approach to wireless has been a success.”

Speaking to MobileCon attendees this afternoon, Pai focused on roadblocks that government can create for telecommunications development, contrasting the lightly regulated wireless sector with the more intrusive approach to wireline carriers taken by the FCC and the 50 states. Wireless carriers, he pointed out, don’t have to worry about investing in infrastructure and then having a competitor come in and use those facilities at regulated rates, as happens in the regulated wireline sector.

The roadblocks that the wireless industry faces are frequently thrown up by local government, with California cities doing it more frequently than most. Although the FCC has pre-empted regulation or restriction of cellular facilities on most grounds, cities do have the power to grant construction permits and take into account concerns such as aesthetics or zoning.

Pai considers local governments in California to be particularly aggressive. “There might be no other state in the nation where it’s more difficult to deploy wireless infrastructure,” he said, adding that local rules frequently make it “too onerous to deploy infrastructure.”

San Francisco and Los Angeles are two particularly difficult he said. Some cities, such as Burlingame and Glendale, have attempted to evade the FCC’s shot clock rule by declaring a moratorium on new wireless facilities. It’s contrary to FCC rules, he believes.

The solution is to strengthen the FCC’s “Shot Clock” rules, which limit the length of time a local government can take to grant or deny a permit for a new tower. The big problem he sees (other than the fact the rule is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court right now) is that if a city takes longer than allowed, the only recourse an applicant has is to sue.

Pai wants the rule changed so that if a city hasn’t decided by the time the clock runs out, the permit is automatically granted. He also wants to amend rule to eliminate any uncertainty about whether it applies to new, smaller technologies such as distributed antenna systems.

“I look forward to working with you to keep the mobile sector strong,” he concluded.