The FCC's expected move later this month to issue an order that speeds up infrastructure deployment will represent a "signal achievement" on the issue, according to PCIA President Jonathan Adelstein.
At its Oct. 17 open meeting the FCC will consider a Report and Order to promote the deployment of wireless infrastructure, generally an effort to make it easier for wireless carriers to install new network infrastructure or upgrade existing infrastructure. The item was recently circulated among the commissioners.
In a briefing with reporters, Adelstein and Crown Castle CEO Ben Moreland, who also serves as chairman of the PCIA board, praised the draft order as a major step forward. Both said they expect that the order will clarify and define legislative language that will accelerate collocation of network infrastructure at cell sites.
The FCC order is expected to provide further clarity on Section 6409(a) of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which was enacted in February 2012. Section 6409(a) prohibits state and local governments from denying any eligible facilities' request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not "substantially change" the physical dimensions of such tower or base station. Carriers and tower companies have cited the law's passage as enabling them to move ahead quickly with network modernization projects.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in a recent blog post that the draft order implements "federal statutory directives that are intended to make state and local review more efficient for wireless deployments and modifications that are highly unlikely to affect local communities. At the same time, it preserves our commitment to safeguarding the essential roles that state, local and tribal governments play in this process."
Adelstein, a former FCC commissioner, said that the order will define the terms of what a substantial change to a tower or base station encompasses. "There won't be disputes about, is a shrub a major, substantial change," he said.
"It occurs to us, not surprisingly, that this is, in itself, a very pro-competition initiative," Moreland added.
The order is expected to also streamline the deployment of Distributed Antenna Systems and small cells that do not trigger concerns about environmental protection or historic preservation. Adelstein said he is hopeful the order will adopt definitions for those systems that the infrastructure industry has come to a consensus on.
"The chairman and commissioners clearly get it," Adelstein said, noting that the industry and consumers "can't afford these deployments to be caught up in red tape."
Adelstein also used the briefing to highlight the U.S. Department of Labor's recent decision to award Virginia State University a $3.25 million grant to help develop a training program for wireless infrastructure workers focused on educating veterans, displaced workers and others.
Adelstein that that "the educational system in our country has not kept pace with the growth of our industry." He said that PCIA is proactively trying to get the industry the qualified and educated workers it needs.
The grant will extend through 2018, and VSU developed the program with support from the PCIA, which will assist in extending the program with a national credentialing framework.
Adelstein said PCIA wants to create standardized, verifiable training and an academic curriculum for infrastructure workers that can be used across the country using certified trainers. He said that the curriculum can be updated over time as the wireless industry evolves. The goal is to give workers skills that take them from being tower technicians to RF engineers and project managers involved in site acquisition, he said.
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