J. Sharpe Smith 2017-08-01 05:09:05
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, addressing the 2017 Wireless Infrastructure Show in May in Orlando, Florida, made no bones about his longstanding frustration at the pace of change at the FCC during his tenure. But he still feels cause for optimism that under a new chairman, the wireless industry will see some action on longstanding issues. “It’s been just over two years since my last visit with you all and, sadly, the overall picture on issues of importance hasn’t changed all that much,” O’Rielly told conference attendees in a first-day keynote speech. “But a few things have changed in this time: a new administration, a new chairman and a refreshing new outlook on communications policy.” O’Rielly is particularly unhappy that the regulatory uncertainty on socalled twilight towers has not been resolved. These are towers built between 2001 and 2005 that did not go through the National Historic Preservation Act’s Section 106 review. As a result, the towers cannot accept collocations. The problem affects about 4,300 twilight towers where close to 6,500 antenna collocations have been prohibited, according to O’Rielly. However, there is hope. The FCC formally sought comment last month on resolving the matter of twilight towers, which includes assurance that no enforcement action will be taken against legitimate twilight towers. Tower Marking Another issue that frustrates O’Rielly is tower marking. Although the FCC successfully eliminated regulatory burdens in tower marking in 2014, the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016 mandates that all towers ranging from 50 feet to 200 feet high meet painting and lighting requirements. The law potentially affects 25,000 communications towers and another 25,000 broadcast towers. The bill would cost the industry $750 million every five to seven years. Increased costs for building towers will cause rural areas to miss out on future 5G and internet of things (IoT) deployments. “While no one disputes the desire to protect the lives of those aviators whizzing planes inches from the ground, carrying out the burden as written will be an extremely expensive undertaking, due to the cost of the specialized labor that climbs these towers,” O’Rielly said. The fix, according to O’Rielly, is for Congress to pass a bill that clarifies that communications towers are exempt from the 2016 act. Tower Crews and the Repack O’Rielly acknowledged the high demand for tower crews being created by the relocation of 987 TV stations as part of the broadcast spectrum incentive auction repack — which is occurring on top of the build-out of AWS-3 and 600-MHz spectrum — and general network densification. He noted concerns that the tower industry may miss the 39-month repacking deadline. “While some are rightfully concerned about the ability to meet the current deadlines, I think it is not irrational that we wait and see how the first stages go before jumping to any premature conclusions,” O’Rielly said. “If it looks like we cannot meet the 39-month timeframe, at some point, we can reassess. In the meantime, I suggest that everyone should take a deep breath as we head down the repack path together.” O’Rielly said one of the siting issues he hears about the most is access to the public rights of way. The industry is experiencing excessive delays when filing siting applications. Some jurisdictions enforce explicit moratoria, and some, de facto moratoria. “These are not acceptable responses to new small cell technologies that need to be deployed for the United States to maintain its position as the leader in wireless communications,” he said. “The commission should clarify that such behavior is not consistent with the Communications Act, which clearly reads that state and local regulations may not ‘have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service.’” O’Rielly added that excessive fees being charged for use of the rights of way are not fair and reasonable compensation. “We need a declaration that fees similar to those imposed on macro towers are not appropriate or sustainable for small cell networks,” he said. Tribal Review Process Another sticking point for antenna siting is the result of dramatically increasing tribal approval fees. These have soared from an average of $439 per site in 2011 to an average $6,754, according to one carrier — a 1,500 percent increase. “This is not economically sustainable,” O’Rielly said. The commissioner said that although tribes are receiving the payments, some never respond as to whether they have a concern about the proposed antenna placement, causing endless delays.
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