FCC to vote on plan to encourage 5G small cell deployments

The proposed regulations would limit the freedom municipalities have to impose fees or other constraints on 5G small-cell deployments.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Taking a cue from state lawmakers across the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to vote on new rules intended to encourage widespread 5G small-cell deployment.

The rules, modeled after laws passed in 20 states so far, would limit the fees that localities can collect when approving plans to deploy 5G small cells. According to the FCC, the new rules would also place other "modest guardrails" on municipal rules "that may prohibit service." They would also require local governments to approve or disapprove 5G small-cell plans within a specific time frame.

The proposed regulations would rest on laws designed to encourage the deployment of the 200-foot towers built for wireless coverage, updating them for the deployment of small cells, which are typically attached to structures like light poles or buildings.

The FCC will vote on the proposal at its September 25 meeting.

The FCC said an economic anslysis suggests the proposal would eliminate $2 billion in fees while stimulating $2.5 billion in small-cell deployments. Furthermore, the FCC asserted the new rules would help extend small-cell service to an additional 2 million homes across the US -- 97 percent in rural and suburban communities.

"Policymakers can't claim success if 5G is only deployed in big cities like New York and San Francisco," FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican, said in a statement. "Those 'must serve' cities will get next-gen mobile broadband almost regardless of what we do. Success means every community getting a fair shot at 5G."

Carr unveiled the proposal at the Indiana Statehouse, where lawmakers enacted this kind of legislation in 2017. The new rules, they say, paved the way for robust small-cell deployments. Both Verizon and AT&T are deploying 5G-capable service in Indianapolis, while providers have built more than 1,000 small cells in 30 communities across the state.

In spite of these and other investments, China is far outpacing the US in 5G infrastructure spending -- to the tune of $24 billion since 2015.

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