Members of the Senate Commerce Committee debated local, state and federal barriers to wireless infrastructure deployment during a hearing Wednesday at which one mayor testified that FCC proposals to preempt local review and approval of broadband infrastructure projects “cannot adequately take into account the diverse and particular needs of communities from state to state.”

Wednesday’s hearing follows on the heels of the FCC’s adoption of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry that will examine how wireless infrastructure siting processes can be streamlined at the local, state and federal levels. In addition to seeking comment on proposed steps to accelerate next-generation network deployment that would include adjustments to pole attachment rates and the streamlining of processes relating to the retirement of legacy copper networks, the FCC has also requested input on whether the agency should use its preemption authority “to prospectively prohibit the enforcement of state and local laws that pose barriers to broadband deployment.” 

Gary Resnick—mayor of Winton Manors, Florida, and a former chairman of the FCC’s Intergovernmental Advisory Committee—appeared at the hearing alongside other local government representatives, state legislators, and industry officials. Because local governments “understand the opportunities that broadband presents for our local communities,” Resnick advised, municipalities strive to “process applications for wireless facilities in an efficient and expeditious manner not only for the benefit of their residents . . . but also for their own benefit.” Acknowledging, however, that recent applications for small and micro-cell sites that relate to fifth-generation (5G) networks “have created new challenges” for local governments, Resnick stipulated: “we just need some more education, and, frankly, a little bit of time to update our codes” pertaining to rights-of-way.

Committee chairman John Thune (R-SD) agreed that members of Congress “must be cognizant . . . of the role our local governments have in authorizing and managing the deployment of physical infrastructure” required for 5G and other telecommunications networks. Lamenting that one carrier in his home state had been forced to endure an 18-month delay in obtaining consents to deploy fiber infrastructure on U.S. government land, Thune argued that one way of speeding up approval processes “is for the Senate to immediately take up and pass the MOBILE NOW Act” which would “streamline the process of applying for easements, rights of way, and leases for federally-managed property.” As he reminded lawmakers that “building these networks has always brought up a number of very sensitive issues—from historic preservation and environmental concerns to state and local land use policies,” ranking committee member Bill Nelson (DFL) voiced hope “that all stakeholders . . . can work together to help find ways to effectively balance the competing concerns about siting and construction of wireless facilities and consumers’ increasing demand for fast and reliable wireless broadband.”