FCC Trims Small Cell Reviews, AT&T Cheers

As expected, the FCC has voted to streamline the federal review process for the deployment of small cells, aiming to speed the rollout of 5G in the next few years.

The vote Thursday was 3-2 in favor of the so-called "5G-ready" rules. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and fellow Republican Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr approved, while Democratic Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel dissented. (See FCC Vote Could Cut 5G Small Cell Deployment Costs for US Operators.)

The new rules will remove federal environmental and historical protection reviews of small cells mounted 50 feet or below on buildings and other structures. Accenture recently put out a research note suggesting that removing these reviews could cut small cell deployment costs by near $10,000 per unit. (See FCC Vote Could Cut 5G Small Cell Deployment Costs for US Operators.)

In a statement, Commissioner Carr described the vote as important. "It's a chance for the FCC to demonstrate our commitment to seeing the United States and American consumers win the race to 5G," he ssaid.

In her dissenting statement, commissioner Rosenworcel, described the ammended rules as "crude," suggesting that if the US wants to "lead in 5G," what is "unconditionally" needed is a spectrum auction "this year." The agency has so far talked about a possible 28GHz spectrum auction in November. (See US Congress Ready to Vote on Allowing 5G Spectrum Auctions.)

Rosenworcel suggested that small cell regulation will require further work, as well as a drivd to "modernize" the approach to macro sites.

"A solution to this infrastructure challenge is long overdue—and while today's decision purports to be one—it misses the mark," Rosenworcel said. "It runs roughshod over the rights of our Tribal communities and gives short shrift to our most basic environmental and historic preservation values."

Nonetheless, US mobile operators were happy with the FCC vote:

"Commissioner Carr has done a tremendous job leading the charge to address the outdated, unnecessary and costly regulations that do nothing but stand in the way of wireless broadband deployment," Joan Marsh, AT&T EVP of regulatory and state external affairs, said in a statement on the vote.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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