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FCC Moves to Speed Wireless Buildouts

FCC Moves to Speed Wireless Buildouts

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously today to approve new rules that aim to speed the deployment of wireless networks by clearing the red tape carriers face when they look to build new infrastructure facilities.

The FCC vote established what in the wireless industry is known as a "shot clock" for state and local governments to approve applications to build new cell towers and install antennas.

"We do not want tower siting review to be an obstacle to deployment," said Angela Kronenberg, special counsel at the FCC's Wireless Telecom Bureau. "These delays are problematic as consumers await deployment of advanced communications services."

Today's action follows a series of notices of inquiry the FCC issued in August calling for comments on steps it could take to improve competition, innovation and pricing in the wireless industry, a sector the chairman sees as critical to the commission's work in developing a national broadband plan.

The shot-clock rule grew directly out of petition to the FCC filed by CTIA, the trade association representing the wireless industry. For the companies CTIA represents, rules to speed the sluggish pace of some local governments in responding to requests for zoning requests for new towers had been a longstanding policy priority at the FCC.

Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA, hailed the commission for its decision to implement the shot-clock rules.

"The chairman's leadership and the efforts of the other commissioners have given us a foundation for our continued deployment of wireless broadband," Largent said in a statement. "Tower siting is a vital piece of our industry."

The new rules allow wireless companies to seek declaratory relief if state and local governments fail to act on their zoning requests in a timely fashion. Congress had previously written into law a stipulation requiring zoning authorities to act within a "reasonable period of time," but failed to define what that meant.

With today's action, zoning authorities have 90 days to respond to a request to collocate an existing facility, and 150 days to act on a request for a new tower, before the wireless firm could take to the courts to force a decision.

"There is simply no reason to allow an interminable process for these applications," Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said.

Wireless companies have 30 days of the zoning authority failing to act to pursue a legal challenge.

The declaratory ruling stops short of CTIA's proposal, which had sought shorter deadlines and a provision that would deem a tower-siting request automatically granted if the zoning authority failed to act within the time frame.

In establishing a mechanism for seeking declaratory relief, the commissioners said they tried to strike a careful balance between advancing the deployment of wireless infrastructure without preempting state and local authority by a federal mandate.

"One of the challenges we face at the FCC is harmonizing federal and local interests," Clyburn said.

FCC officials said that while most state and local authorities act promptly in response to tower-siting requests, today's action is addressed at those that don't, aiming to bring uniformity and certainty to the process of building out new networks.

An expeditious tower-siting system will be critical as wireless providers begin to build out 4G networks using the new spectrum licenses acquired at last year's auction.