FCC commissioner signals more preemption of state, local wireless review

24 October 2017 by Steve Blum
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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.