The Federal Communications Commission ("FCC" or "Commission") last week adopted a pair of Notices of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM"),[1] each on a 3-0 vote, that collectively examine regulatory impediments to wireline and wireless network infrastructure and deployment at the federal, state, and local levels. The Commission seeks comments on how to best reform various regulations that affect the speed and cost of infrastructure investment. These two items fulfill Chairman Ajit Pai's recent promise to make April "infrastructure month" at the Commission.

Infrastructure improvement is one of the few bipartisan issues currently before the Commission, and it is extremely important for the telecommunications industry and consumers. The technical aspects of telecommunications infrastructure may be complicated, but the idea that this infrastructure needs to be improved is simple: the current wires and towers that power our interconnected society are old and need to be updated to keep up with the pace of increased consumer demand and technological improvements. To promote these updates, the Commission is asking commenters to identify state, local, and federal rules that currently make it difficult for providers to discontinue outdated technologies and invest in new ones. Through these reforms, the Commission hopes to pave the way for the deployment of new broadband networks and 5G wireless technology.

Key provisions of the Commission's analysis and proposals are listed below.

Key Provisions—Wireline NPRM/NOI

  • Seeks comment on ways to reform the FCC's pole attachment rules to make it easier, faster, and less costly to access the poles and rights of way necessary for building out next-generation networks.
  • Proposes revisions to the Part 51 copper retirement rules to facilitate more rapid deployment of next-generation networks, and seeks comment on streamlining and eliminating provisions of the network change rules, which currently require incumbent Local Exchange Carriers ("LECs") to provide public notice of network changes, including copper retirement, that would affect a competing carrier's performance or ability to provide service.
  • Seeks comment on streamlining the Section 214(a) discontinuance process for legacy systems to facilitate carriers' ability to retire legacy network infrastructure so that providers can instead spend capital to invest in new infrastructure projects.
  • Includes a Notice of Inquiry ("NOI") that seeks comment on specific areas where the FCC could use its preemption authority pursuant to Section 253 to prevent the enforcement of state and local laws that inhibit broadband deployment.
  • Requests comment on changing the FCC's legal interpretations of when carriers must ask for permission to alter or discontinue a service.

Key Provisions—Wirless NPRM

  • Seeks comment on the impact of current local, state, and Commission rules on the speed and cost of infrastructure deployment.
  • Seeks input on time limits for local review and proposes three possible remedies that would "deem granted," or grant by the operation of law, applications where there has been an unreasonable delay.
  • Opens a review of FCC rules and procedures for historic preservation and environmental review, and seeks comment on these processes and the scope of the Commission's responsibility.
  • Seeks comment on how Sections 253 and 332(c)(7) of the Communications Act, which restrict state and local entities from adopting regulations prohibiting the ability to provide interstate or intrastate telecommunications services, apply to wireless facilities.

Input and Timeline

The Commission's newly adopted NPRMs offer a crucial opportunity for providers to identify barriers they currently face to investing in next generation technologies; comment on the ways that the Commission can make it easier by relaxing or removing local, state, or federal impediments to investment; and ultimately shape the rules the Commission adopts in the future. Comments will be due for both NPRMs 30 days after the date each is published in the Federal Register.