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Focus on Regulation

FCC Offers Modest Reforms to Accelerate Broadband Buildout with Bigger Reforms Over-the-Horizon

Last Friday, the FCC Chairman announced several “new and forthcoming” measures under the Commission’s existing Broadband Acceleration Initiative that seeks to speed broadband buildout by lifting barriers to accessing utility poles, rights-of-way, and other last-mile infrastructure.

Despite the hype, the two latest actions offer incremental improvements over the status quo, but no major change.

Of the two measures, the more important is the FCC’s release of some useful, but non-binding, interpretative guidance concerning the wireless infrastructure provisions of the recently enacted Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.   In a separate action, the FCC proposed to pursue a rulemaking to formalize and simplify the process of stationing temporary cell phone towers outside pre-planned, but non-emergency events, such as the Super Bowl.   While perhaps helpful, these announcements do not alter the basic challenges that carriers and infrastructure providers face.

Perhaps sensing the lack of concrete achievement, Chairman Genachowski promised more relevant – and more constructive – changes in the near future.   According to the Commission, the additional measures will include:

  • actions to further streamline DAS and small cell deployment;
  • measures to review and potentially revise the tower siting shot clock rules; and
  • a process to develop model facility siting rules for localities.

Each of these forthcoming measures promises potentially major changes to existing facility-siting processes.   If the Commission adopts model rules, for example, state and local governments would have access to – as Commissioner Rosenworcel has noted – an easy-to-use, “off-the-rack” ordinance that could start to harmonize a confusing patchwork of Federal laws and directives on infrastructure construction, including President Obama’s Executive Order 13616 for facility siting on federal land and property, the wireless facility policies in Section 6409 of the recently adopted Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, and the Commission’s existing shot clock rules for tower siting.

When he announced the creation of the Broadband Acceleration Initiative in 2011, Chairman Genachowski said no silver bullet will solve operators’ many different infrastructure challenges.  And Friday’s announcement continues the slow accretion of small reforms.

But the true test for the Chairman, and the Commission, is whether the agency can finally start to move on some of the more potentially far-reaching measures, such as actions to speed DAS deployment and provide states and localities with model rules.   According to the Commission, action on the potentially more far-reaching measures should occur “in the coming months.”  The industry is waiting.