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How Do Municipalities Comply with the FCC’s New Rule on Small Cell Wireless Deployment?

California municipalities are constantly faced with a changing regulatory framework related to the next generation of wireless services, known as 5G, which requires installing vast numbers of small cell equipment. These new networks present completely different local regulatory issues than the 3G and 4G networks of the past, which involved constructing large towers with a coverage range of a few miles. Supporting advanced 4G and new 5G requires telecommunications companies to build thousands of small cells at a faster pace with a far greater density of deployment. Municipalities’ policies and ordinances must keep up with this fast-changing technology.

The FCC recently adopted a new “Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order” that interprets provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to preempt local regulations that effectively prohibit the deployment of small cell wireless infrastructure in local communities. The FCC Ruling includes broad definitions of the types of local regulations that would be presumed to constitute an impermissible effective prohibition of wireless services, and establishes the applicable “shot clock” timelines by which local agencies must take action on small cell deployment applications.

Meyers Nave attorneys provided a webinar that explains the important new obligations for California municipalities. Their webinar covers:

  • Rule Violation: What are the three enumerated examples, as interpreted by the FCC, of a municipal regulation that would constitute an unlawful “Effective Prohibition” of small cell service deployment and, thus, be preempted by the Telecommunications Act of 1996?
  • Fees & Charges: What is the standard for determining whether a municipal fee or charge imposed on small cell infrastructure providers would be permissible based on the FCC’s interpretations of the Telecommunications Act? What “local fees” are covered by the new interpretation and what are examples of presumptively compliant “local fees” as presented by the FCC?
  • Non-Fee Requirements: What non-fee provisions in a local regulation, such as aesthetics, undergrounding, and minimum spacing requirements, could operate as an effective prohibition of service pursuant to the FCC’s view?
  • Shot Clocks: What are the new “shot clocks” applicable to local review of applications for wireless infrastructure installation and deployment, and what are the potential consequences if a municipality fails to act on the application during the specified time frame?
  • Grandfathering: How does the FCC interpretation affect previous agreements between a municipality and a carrier or other third party involved in small cell infrastructure deployment?

As the FCC stated in the narrative of the new rule, “Many states and localities have acted to update and modernize their approaches to small cell deployments. They are working to promote deployment and balance the needs of their communities. At the same time, the record shows that problems remain. … Today’s action is the next step in the FCC’s ongoing efforts to remove regulatory barriers that would unlawfully inhibit the deployment of infrastructure necessary to support these new services.” Jason and Claire’s webinar will help municipalities navigate the FCC’s attention to local regulatory environments.