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Court Rules in Favor of FCC 5G Regulatory Rollbacks

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is allowing a ruling from the Federal Communications Commission — one that takes away decision-making from local government on small cell equipment — go into effect.

Local governments may feel disappointed by a recent court ruling which sided with the Federal Communications Commission’s rollback of regulations related to the deployment of 5G communications technology.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on Jan. 10 turned down a motion to stay the FCC’s revised rules related to the rollout of small-cell 5G technologies. The FCC’s Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order was released in September 2018 and was challenged by a coalition of local government entities, led by San Jose, Calif.

The Declaratory Ruling, which is set to take effect Jan. 14, 2018, will make it easier for telecom industries to deploy small-cell 5G equipment — often mounted on city streetlights — by easing local regulations, limiting fees and streamlining the review process.

“This story is far from over,” said Brian Namey, a spokesperson for the National Association of Counties, which has sided with local officials, stressing each city and county should be allowed to set their own rules related to the placement of telecom equipment on publicly owned infrastructure.

“We support timely, successful deployment of 5G technology across the country,” Namey added, in an email. “We are concerned that the FCC’s ruling overlooks community decision-making and significantly impedes counties’ ability to ensure public safety and well-being. We share the FCC’s goal of expanding broadband access for every American; however, a one-size-fits-all approach will not achieve that goal.”

The Tenth Circuit concluded that the cities’ motion to stay the ruling did not adequately demonstrate that they would suffer irreparable home without putting the ruling on hold. It’s not yet clear what legal action the coalition of cities will take next.

The FCC’s ruling — which has been criticized for siding too closely with industry — aims to make it easier for communications companies like cellphone providers to roll out 5G. For example, one of the new provisions sets time limits for cities to approve the applications. If they do not meet the time limits — 60 days if the units are to be mounted on existing infrastructure and 90 days if the equipment will be mounted on new poles — the city can face legal challenges from the telecom. Critics say this could lead to rubber-stamping applications rather than studying them closely.

The FCC also set limits on how much government entities can charge in fees. Jurisdictions, for their part, would rather set their own fees.

The FCC and the telecom industry argue that the relaxed regulations are needed to more easily ensure the rollout of 5G, particularly in rural areas.

Due to the partial government shutdown, the FCC could not be reached for comment. Officials with San Jose did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.