FCC’s 5G Upgrade order passes 3-2

4G 5G
The FCC's decision will make it easier for technicians to swap 3G and 4G antennas out for new 5G gear. (Getty Images)

The FCC voted 3-2 to adopt a declaratory ruling that will streamline how 5G gets deployed in the U.S., but the two dissenting commissioners said it’s the wrong time—when local governments have the least amount of time and resources as they struggle with COVID-19 and protests on their streets.

According to the FCC majority, the ruling adopted today clarifies the commission’s 2014 rules with regard to when the 60-day shot clock for local review begins. The ruling also clarifies how certain aspects of proposed modifications – height increases, equipment cabinet additions and impact on concealment elements and aesthetic conditions – affect eligibility for streamlined review.

Commissioner Brendan Carr, who spearheaded work on the ruling, said the record leading up to the vote included input from infrastructure builders, broadband providers, local governments and everyday Americans.

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Localities were especially active, and their positions carried the day on several issues that were decided, he said. For example, the industry must make written submissions before they can claim that the shot clock has started.

RELATED: Carr: 5G Upgrade Order will make antenna swaps faster, more predictable

Carr told FierceWireless ahead of the decision that it would help technicians swap 3G and 4G antennas out for new 5G ones on a faster, more predictable scale. That will help boost and accelerate 5G builds, and he demonstrated how it can be done with a field trip in Maryland last week.

CTIA commended the commissioner and the FCC for their work on the item. “By clarifying the rules allowing wireless providers to upgrade existing facilities with next-generation equipment, the FCC is helping ensure America will maintain its leadership in the emerging 5G economy,” said CTIA Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann in a statement.

But the decision came after some cities and counties asked the FCC to delay the vote because they wanted more time to review the order.

RELATED: FCC urged to delay 5G Upgrade Order due to COVID-19, protests

The two dissenting votes came from Democrats Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, who said state and local governments are at the front lines dealing with the public health crisis from COVID-19, higher unemployment rates and protests against racial injustices. Now they’re being asked to immediately review and update their current ordinances, policies and application systems involving wireless towers.

“They have to rework the way they process new requests, how they measure tower height, what they do with requests to add more equipment, and how they conceal structures to preserve the visual character of their communities,” Rosenworcel said. “Addressing these things is not unreasonable. But these clarifications can be hard to put into practice and they were shared with state and local governments for the first time only three weeks ago—and my goodness, they’ve been busy.”

Even under the best of circumstances, three weeks would not be enough notice for such an important decision, which will affect communities across the nation, Starks said. “At a minimum, we should have deferred our consideration of this item to allow interested parties more time to analyze and comment on the draft decision,” he said. “But I would have gone further and dealt with these issues through a rulemaking proceeding, with notice of our proposed approach and an opportunity for public comment.”

The commission also adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on proposed rule changes regarding excavation or deployment outside the boundaries of an existing tower site and the effects of such activities on eligibility for streamlined review.

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