The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced several actions as part of the Broadband Acceleration Initiative designed to remove barriers to broadband build-out, such as streamlining the deployment of towers, distributed antenna systems, and small cells. Although they are focused on broadband, these initiatives may also facilitate the deployment of other wireless infrastructure as well, such as towers and base stations that support private communications systems.
CTIA Petition for Exemption from ASR Public Notice Requirements
The FCC requested comment on a petition for expedited rulemaking filed by CTIA to add a limited exception to the antenna structure registration (ASR) public notice requirements for all temporary towers, including those deployed in non-emergency situations. If adopted, this proposal would expedite the placement of temporary towers, such as cells on wheels (COWs) and cells on light trucks (COLTs), that are used in non-emergency situations to address short-term capacity constraints.
Comments are due February 25, 2013, with reply comments due March 12, 2013.
The FCC’s ASR public notice rules (which went into effect June 18, 2012) apply to all structures that require notice to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and registration with the FCC, including antenna structures more than 200 feet in height, structures located on the grounds of an airport, and towers between 20-200 feet in height that exceed an imaginary 100:1 slope around an airport runway.
In its petition, CTIA requested that the FCC revise its rules to add an exemption from the public notice requirements for temporary towers that meet the following criteria:
The tower will be in use for 60 days or less;
The tower requires the filing of an FAA Form 7460-1 (Notice of Proposed Construction or Alteration);
The tower does not require marking or lighting pursuant to FAA regulations; and
The tower will be less than 200 feet in height above ground.
CTIA also requested a blanket waiver exempting all such towers that meet these criteria from the public notice requirements during the pendency of the rulemaking proceeding.
The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau also issued a Public Notice defining and clarifying a provision in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 regarding local review of requests to modify an existing wireless tower or base station. Section 6409(a) of the Tax Act provides that a state or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any request for collocation, removal, or replacement of transmission equipment on an existing wireless tower or base station, provided this action does not substantially change the physical dimensions of the tower or base station. The FCC explained that it has received several informal inquiries from service providers, facilities owners, and state and local governments seeking guidance as to how to apply this provision. Accordingly, the Wireless Bureau issued a public notice addressing certain frequently asked questions:
What does it mean to “substantially change the physical dimensions of a tower or base station”? The Bureau clarified that a substantial change in the dimensions of a tower or base station exists where the collocation, removal, or replacement of equipment on a wireless tower or base station results in a “substantial increase in size” as defined by the FCC in the Nationwide Programmatic Agreement for the Collocation of Wireless Antennas (Collocation Agreement).
What is a “wireless tower or base station”? The Bureau stated that a “wireless tower or base station” is not limited to facilities that support personal wireless services, such as commercial mobile radio services; thus, it appears that the Tax Act’s restrictions on state and local review and approval of collocation and equipment changes on existing structures would also apply to towers and base stations that support private communications systems. The Bureau also explained that a “base station” includes a structure that currently supports or houses an antenna, transceiver, or other associated equipment that constitutes part of the base station. The Bureau stated that a “base station” encompasses such equipment in any technological configuration, including distributed antenna systems and small cells.
May a state or local government require an application for an action covered under Section 6409(a) of the Tax Act? The Bureau advised that a state or local government may still require the filing of an application for approval.
Is there a time limit within which an application must be approved? The Bureau indicated that 90 days should be the maximum presumptively reasonable period of time for reviewing such applications.
In addition to these immediate actions, the FCC stated that it plans to initiate proceedings in the coming months to further streamline deployment, examine whether the current tower siting shot clock offers sufficient clarify to industry and municipalities, and begin developing model facility siting rules for localities.