FCC to consider easing small cell deployments at next month's meeting

The FCC is moving quickly to make good on its promise to ease small-cell deployments.

Wireless carriers are increasingly looking to small cells and distributed antenna systems to increase both coverage and capacity as data consumption ramps up and as they prepare for the emergence of 5G. But rollouts have been slowed as municipalities, property owners and local organizations struggle to develop policies to manage them.

Montgomery County, Maryland, has around 200 pending applications for small-cell installations, Inside Towers recently reported, for example. And a request by Mobilitie for relief from “excessive charges” for access to public rights-of-way resulted in nearly 130 comments to the FCC.

The FCC hopes to help address those problems to make it easier and less expensive to deploy the smaller transmitters. The FCC finalized rules in August aimed at addressing siting concerns in a move cheered by players across the industry, but CTIA and others claim adoption of the proposals in the Small Cell Public Notice will streamline local processes.

During its next open meeting, which is slated for April 20, the agency will vote on launching an examination of the “regulatory impediments” that are weighing down small cells and other kinds of infrastructure.

“The wireless networks of the future will look very different,” Chairman Ajit Pai wrote this week in a blog post. “Instead of tall towers you can see from a mile away, there will be small cells – wireless access points you might not even see and/or could hold in your hands. With this ‘densification’ of so-called 5G networks, we’ll need to deploy millions of small cells in order to realize the promise of multi-gigabit connectivity through millimeter-wave technology.”

Among other things, Pai is looking to seek comment on how local, state and FCC rules and processes affect the speed and cost of network deployments, and solicit ideas for improving network reviews. The FCC also is considering what kind of time limits should apply to local review processes, as well as a proposal to “deem granted” applications, essentially green-lighting applications after an “unreasonable delay.”

Wireless carriers for months have urged the FCC to get involved to help ease small cell deployments. A top CTIA executive met with FCC officials last week to continue to push for streamlined policies for deploying small cells.

“CTIA encouraged the Commission to adopt the proposals in its recently-released Small Cell Public Notice that would streamline local review of wireless infrastructure applications, clarify actions that prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting wireless service, and ensure that compensation for use of public rights of way is cost-based, fair, and reasonable,” the trade association said in an FCC filing.