Mobilitie, Sprint whacked with fines for ignoring environmental, historic rules

11 April 2018 by Steve Blum
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Mobilitie’s fast and loose way of building out cellular networks has earned it and its major customer, Sprint, fines and a reprimand from the Federal Communications Commission. In a consent decree – a negotiated settlement – Mobilitie agreed to pay a $1.6 million fine and Sprint agreed to a $10 million fine for ignoring federal environmental and historic review regulations when building new towers.

The FCC’s documents don’t detail where and when the two companies sinned, but the violations were deliberate, as Mobilitie’s consent decree makes clear

In an effort to meet certain deadlines, Mobilitie had commenced construction of certain wireless facilities without securing all necessary regulatory and environmental approvals required under the Commission’s Wireless Infrastructure Rules. Specifically, prior to construction, Mobilitie did not timely complete registration of certain antenna structures with the Commission as required under Section 17.4 of the Rules and did not complete the environmental and/or historic preservation review process set forth in Section 1.1307(a) of the Rules.

Mobilitie and Sprint have to put stricter compliance processes into place so they don’t offend again. The practical effect will be less than you might think, though, because the FCC changed the environmental and historic review rules for some kinds of wireless facilities last month. So it’s possible that the at least some of the activities that got Sprint and Mobilitie into trouble in the past are now legal.

In its push to upgrade Sprint’s mobile network, Mobilitie has also alienated local governments by disingenuously claiming that 120-foot steel poles are “utility poles” rather than the cell towers they actually are, and by operating under a confusing array of corporate aliases. Companies, such as Mobilitie, that are certified as “telephone corporations” by the California Public Utilities Commission are allowed to install utility poles in the public right of way at no cost and with minimal local oversight. On the other hand, cell towers can be, and usually are, more tightly regulated by cities and counties. At least until the FCC decides to rewrite those rules, too.