Rather Than Advance 5G Deployments, FCC Power Grab Will Likely Spur Lawsuits

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Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to approve a Declaratory Ruling and Report and Order to effectively curtail the ability of state and local governments to exercise oversight of local rights of way and other public property when reviewing applications for wireless small cell deployments.

Public Knowledge has long supported commonsense solutions to ease barriers to deployment of advanced communications services, such as one-touch-make-ready and dig once. However, today’s Commission action unnecessarily restricts local oversight authority, is economically unsound, and unlikely to help close the digital divide.

The following can be attributed to Phillip Berenbroick, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“Today’s vote will likely chill and undermine the good faith work that states and wireless carriers are doing across the country to ensure the public has access to next-generation wireless and fixed wireless networks. Instead, today’s action will assuredly lead to years of litigation between the Commission, local governments, and carriers, and ultimately delay, rather than speed, 5G deployment.

“This vote marks a missed opportunity. The Commission is rightly focused on removing obstacles to deployment of next-generation wireless networks and reducing barriers to entry. However, rather than finding consensus between industry and state and local government stakeholders, the Commission’s Declaratory Ruling and Order overwhelmingly sides with industry on nearly every issue, resulting in a vote that will almost certainly be challenged in the courts and create uncertainty, rather than predictability for small cell wireless deployments.

“The Commission should have done the hard work to find common ground and flexibility, rooted in the agreements wireless carriers and local governments have negotiated in communities across the country that meet the shared goals of all stakeholders: ensuring deployment of high-speed broadband infrastructure, closing the digital divide, making broadband more affordable for all, and increasing digital literacy and relevancy. Instead, today’s action undermines local oversight of small cell deployments and replaces local decision-making on public safety, aesthetic, and the historic character of communities with the judgement of three FCC commissioners.

“Despite taking shortcuts that subvert the public interest in service of the interests of a handful of wireless carriers, the FCC’s action is unlikely to appreciably move the needle to actually promote deployment of 5G networks, close the digital divide, or help bring service to unserved communities. The entire premise of the Commission’s action is implausible and rooted in mere conjecture, rather than economic reality.

“Wireless carriers will not divert cost savings from ‘must serve’ cities to serve communities they have determined don’t promise a suitable return on investment. Instead, those savings will likely be reinvested in wealthy, densely populated, and already served high-ROI markets, or used to fund more mergers, executive bonuses, or share buy-backs. This FCC power grab will likely only serve to widen the digital divide.”

You may view our recent blog post, “FCC Action on Wireless Infrastructure Hamstrings Cities but Won’t Spur More 5G Deployment,” for more information.

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