New FCC rules coming for local small cell reviews, permit fees

5 September 2018 by Steve Blum
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Local governments can charge based fees to cover “the costs associated with reviewing small cell deployment”, but the Federal Communications Commission will set “specific fee amounts, below which we presume the local governments’ fees are lawful”. That’s according to a speech made by FCC commissioner Brendan Carr in Indianapolis yesterday. The draft of the new rules will be published shortly, Carr said.

Going by the plain words of Carr’s speech and the subsequent press release, the new rules won’t be about the lease rates that a city can charge for attaching wireless equipment to property that it owns, such as a light pole or traffic signal. But there’s enough wiggle room that it’s worth waiting for the full draft before jumping to conclusions.

According to the press release…

Carr’s plan has four main components:

  1. Implements long-standing federal law that bars municipal rules that have the effect of prohibiting deployment of wireless service
  2. Allows municipalities to charge fees for reviewing small cell deployments when such fees are limited to recovering the municipalities’ costs, and provides guidance on specific fee levels that would comply with this standard
  3. Requires municipalities to approve or disapprove applications to attach small cells to existing structures within 60 days and applications to build new small cell poles within 90 days
  4. Places modest guardrails on other municipal rules that may prohibit service while reaffirming localities’ traditional roles in, for example, reasonable aesthetic reviews

The proposed shot clock for small cells is tighter than current requirements, which allow 90 days for permits for attachment to existing structures and 150 days for new poles. In California, those shot clocks are backed up by a state law that says permits are “deemed approved” if a city misses the deadline. Carr said “we do not propose a ‘deemed granted’ remedy”, which implies that a carrier would have to take further action, such as filing a lawsuit, to make the new time limit stick. That’s a time consuming process, so as a practical matter the new shot clocks might not make much of a difference.

The devil will be in the details, but at this point Carr’s plan does not appear to be a radical change in practice, if not policy, in California.

Among my other sins, I assist local governments with wireless policy and lease negotiations. I’m not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.