As part of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Notice of Inquiry (NOI) adopted last Thursday, the FCC is soliciting comment on what steps the agency could take to remove local, state and federal regulatory barriers to broadband infrastructure deployment. Approved unanimously by the FCC’s three commissioners, the NPRM and NOI, in the words of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, are intended to spur “creative and common sense solutions” to costly and time-consuming permitting processes “that unnecessarily slow down the transition from old, fading 20th century networks” to high-speed fixed and wireless broadband technologies. Stressing that “every dollar the FCC forces companies to [spend to] maintain obsolete, low-capacity copper lines is by definition a dollar that cannot be spent deploying high-capacity fiber,” Pai explained that the item seeks “to examine ways to modernize our rules and broadband infrastructure along with them.”

With the goal of accelerating next-generation network deployment, the NPRM requests comment on reforms to the FCC’s pole attachment rules. Potential actions to be considered include (1) the adoption of a streamlined timeframe for broadband providers to gain access to utility poles, (2) the reduction of charges that broadband providers must pay to utilities to prepare poles for new attachments, (3) the development of a formula for computing maximum pole attachment rates for incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs), and (4) the adoption of a “shot clock” by which the FCC must act on pole attachment complaints. Noting that the FCC now has several shot clocks of varying lengths in place that range from 60 days for approval of tower and base station modifications to 150 days for approval of new transmission sites, the NPRM proposes to shorten all shot clocks to 60 days. In addition to proposing rules that would streamline the process by which ILECs obtain FCC consent to retire copper networks and provide notice of network changes, the NPRM also seeks input on whether carriers must continue to obtain prior FCC consent to alter or discontinue a service.

The NOI, meanwhile, requests feedback on whether the FCC should use its preemption authority “to prospectively prohibit the enforcement of state and local laws that pose barriers to broadband deployment.” Along that vein, the NOI asks stakeholders “to submit specific information on whether some localities . . . impose moratoria or other restrictions on the filing or processing of wireless siting applications, including refusing to accept applications due to resource constraints or due to the pendency of state or local legislation on siting issues.” Affirming its proposal “to take any additional actions necessary” that could include preemption “of specific state or local moratoria,” the FCC encouraged debate on “the benefits and detriments of any such additional measures and our legal authority to adopt them.”