Accelerating the deployment of broadband infrastructure is the very best thing the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) can do right now. Other high-profile proceedings may get more attention, but closing the Digital Divide and Homework Gap between rural and urban areas, and between wealthy and poor Americans, should be the FCC’s top priority. For these reasons, we applaud the Commission for putting forward this proposal seeking input on new ways to promote wireless broadband infrastructure deployment.
Within its existing authority, there is much that the FCC can do to preempt certain state or local practices that unreasonably restrict broadband deployment, and to require certain other steps be undertaken that can reasonably be expected to promote broadband deployment. However, those are not the only options available at hand. The FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (“BDAC”) was wisely established in order to convene reasonable discussions among relevant stakeholders — including industry experts, civil society groups, and policymakers from the state and local levels — and the BDAC can play a pivotal role in dispute resolution and the promotion of broadband deployment, while avoiding costly litigation over questions of authority or process. Thus, we encourage the FCC to exercise its preemptive authority only with respect to the limited cases where states or localities have clearly run afoul of the Commissions duties under the Communications Act.
Specifically, to promote wireless infrastructure deployment, we encourage the FCC to embrace the paradigm shift to 5G and heterogeneous networks (“HetNets”), which will require orders of magnitude more cellular deployments than required by traditional macro-cellular network architectures. When states or localities apply the same approval processes and fee schedules to small-cell deployments that they use for traditional wireless infrastructure, it presents an unreasonable barrier to deployment. Historic and environmental review processes can also unreasonably restrict wireless broadband deployment where they fail to account for the differences between 5G small cells and traditional cellular deployments.