Industry comments filed late last week in response to a recent FCC rulemaking notice (NPRM) concerning the removal of state, local and federal regulatory barriers to broadband infrastructure deployment demonstrate wide support for FCC proposals that would speed or streamline local government permitting processes for deployment of broadband network infrastructure. However, many state and local governments opposed the NPRM, asserting that many of the restrictions on municipal siting proposed by the FCC are unnecessary and may also exceed the agency’s authority. 

Approved unanimously by the FCC on April 20, the NPRM and a related Notice of Inquiry (NOI), in the words of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, are intended to spur “creative and common sense solutions” to costly and time-consuming wireline and wireless infrastructure permitting processes “that unnecessarily slow down the transition from old, fading 20th century networks” to broadband network technologies. Along that vein, the NPRM requests stakeholder comment on proposals that 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, and (3) the development of a formula for computing maximum pole attachment rates for incumbent local exchange carriers. The NOI solicits 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.”

Complaining that some local governments “impose multiple barriers” to broadband infrastructure deployment,” wireless association CTIA argued that the FCC “can and should take concerted actions to clear away” such barriers as the FCC “has unquestionable authority under numerous provisions of the Communications Act to foster the critical national policy objective of promoting ubiquitous broadband.” CTIA also urged the FCC to adopt a declaratory ruling which specifies that “any state or local law that poses a substantial barrier to timely deployment of broadband facilities . . . violates Sections 253 and 332(c)(7)” of the 1934 Communications Act. As it echoed CTIA’s call for a declaratory ruling, the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) advised the FCC to “reduce delays associated with the deployment of wireless association by implementing a ‘deemed granted’ remedy for shot clock violations.” While endorsing the declaratory ruling recommended by CTIA and WIA, AT&T added that any definition of “burdensome and unreasonable regulations” that violate Sections 253 and 332(c)(7) should cover local and state moratoria on wireless siting proposals, restrictions on facility upgrades and “vague and subjective aesthetic restrictions.”

However, the National League of Cities (NLC) said it was “troubled by the proposals” which portray local governments as “barriers to broadband deployment.” As the NLC encouraged the FCC “to work with cities, rather than against them, to ensure that all Americans have access to the best in broadband technology,” the Smart Communities and Special Districts Coalition insisted, “there is no need for new rules aimed at local governments” as “public-private cooperation is working at the local level.” Citing the “hundreds of thousands” of wireless transmission sites that have already been permitted and deployed nationwide and common support for goals of broadband deployment which state and local governments share, a coalition of local government agencies representing the States of Colorado and Washington told the FCC: “our information suggests that there is no national problem calling out for a federal solution.”