Small cells and DAS included in definition of ‘base station’ for purposes of municipal planning and site regulations
The FCC has outlined its latest proposals to boost its ongoing quest to accelerate mobile broadband deployment across the US. This time the ideas are not about spectrum but ways to “streamline the deployment of mobile broadband infrastructure, such as towers, distributed antenna systems and small cells”.
The agency says it has “defined and clarified” the rules which govern modification of cell towers or base stations, in order to speed up roll-out and reduce bureaucracy for operators. This should create “greater certainty and predictability”, it said in its statement, for a sector which invests over $25bn a year in infrastructure. The regulator also wants to make it easier to deploy temporary cell towers to expand coverage during special events.
Another priority is to study whether current site approval processes are adequate for small cells and DAS (distributed antenna systems) roll-outs, especially with regards to how the rules are understood and interpreted by municipalities, which often own the sites on which these new-style networks will be housed.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said: “Providing more certainty to industry and municipalities, and more flexibility to carriers to meet extraordinary, short term service needs, will accelerate private and public investment to strengthen our nation’s communications networks.”
The new moves are part of the FCC’s Broadband Acceleration Initiative. In one order, the regulator has clarified legislation passed last February, which prohibits state and local governments from denying any eligible facility’s request for to modify an existing wireless tower or base station, provided the physical dimensions are not substantially changed. Cellcos welcomed this for making it easier for them to carry out network modernizations and base station upgrades. However, they have sometimes fallen into dispute with municipalities over the definitions of ‘tower’ and ‘base station’. The FCC now rules that a base station supports or houses an antenna, transceiver, or other associated equipment in any technological configuration, including DAS and small cells.
“We could not be more pleased with the FCC’s efforts to promote wireless broadband deployment. This common sense application and interpretation of FCC rules is an enormous step forward for those of us who care about meeting consumers’ insatiable demand for wireless data. It will spur badly needed investment, creating jobs while expanding broadband capacity,” said Jonathan Adelstein, president of infrastructure trade group PCIA. He particularly praised the inclusion of DAS and small cells in the ‘base station’ definition.
The FCC is also addressing the growing tendency for municipalities to draw up their own tower ordinances, creating confusion for mobile operators. In coming months, the FCC will issue model “off-the-rack” rules for broadband and wireless facility siting for state and local governments to follow.
Its Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is now seeking comments on its proposals for temporary towers, which is itself a response to a December 21 petition from the cellco trade body, the CTIA. This argued that, although current rules cover waivers of notice in emergency situations, many non-emergency situations arise in which carriers need temporary towers, such as major public events.