FCC commissioner frames preemption of local streetlight ownership as digital divide issue

14 September 2018 by Steve Blum
, , , ,

Big cities are blocking 5G deployments in rural communities with high permit fees and expensive aesthetic requirements for new wireless facilities. That’s the argument FCC commissioner Brendan Carr made at the Mobile World Congress Americas show in Los Angeles yesterday. He’s the principal author of new, draft rules that would set federal benchmarks that, he hopes, cities and counties will follow when processing permit applications.

If mobile carriers have to spend more money than they want to when they build out 5G networks in high value, high priority cities, then there won’t be anything left over for rural areas, his reasoning goes…

Despite all of that progress, there still are many communities, especially in rural America, that feel that they may be left behind. They want to see their residents get a fair shot at the new wave of economic opportunity that will come with 5G.

But they worry that the billions of dollars of investment needed to deploy next-gen networks will be consumed by high fees and long delays in big, “must serve” cities…

When I think about success—when I think about winning the race to 5G—the finish line is not the moment we see next-gen deployments in New York or San Francisco. Success can only be achieved when all Americans, no matter where they live, have a fair shot at fast, affordable broadband.

The draft rules would, in effect, extend the free and open access that mobile carriers have to the public right of way to government-owned assets, such as streetlights or traffic signals. Cities wouldn’t necessarily have to follow the FCC’s rulebook, but Carr assumes it would guide decisions made by federal judges when disputes end up in court.

Two other FCC commissioners – Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel – also spoke at the show. Both focused primarily on spectrum policy – how to make more frequencies available for mobile broadband service – and neither dwelled on wireless deployment issues.

But Rosenworcel did talk about the far future of wireless networks and what she apparently sees as the permanent trend of network densification – the need to build more and more cell sites to support ever faster and more reliable service. As the sole democrat on the Federal Communications Commission for the present, she might have taken the opportunity to put a little daylight between her and her colleagues on wireless deployment policy in general or local preemption in particular. She didn’t.

The FCC vote is scheduled for 26 September 2018.