Testimony Before the Transportation & the Environment Public Roundtable
My name is Jesse Kelley and I am the state affairs manager at the R Street Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research organization based here in D.C. Today, I am speaking to you about the ways the Committee on Transportation and the Environment can facilitate the deployment of 5G technology so that the District and all its residents can realize its benefits.
As explained in the Notice, new 5G deployments will require the installation of numerous small- wireless facilities. Unlike the macro cells that characterized previous generations of wireless service, these small cells are typically no larger than a backpack. With these deployments, wireless providers will be able to offer services 100 times faster than legacy 4G service and connect 100 times more devices to their networks. This unprecedented connectivity has the potential to transform communities, improve government services and stimulate growth throughout the economy.
However, while the technology has developed at a breakneck pace, local permitting processes have not. Around the country, cities continue to treat small cells like traditional cell towers, imposing high fees and costly reviews that make deployment slower or even unprofitable for carriers.
To some extent, in a city like Washington, 5G will be deployed regardless of the regulatory barriers in place because of the strong business case in certain neighborhoods. For example, Metro Center and Dupont Circle may get 5G but Petworth and Trinidad may not. However, by removing regulatory barriers and streamlining approval processes, the Committee can enable carriers to deploy 5G more quickly and to parts of the city that would currently be unprofitable to serve.
Accordingly, to realize the benefits of 5G technologies fully, the Committee should implement the following reforms:
First, it should ensure that public rights-of-way, like streets and sidewalks, are open to all broadband providers on a non-exclusive and non-discriminatory basis. Fees for accessing these
rights-of-way should also be non-discriminatory, transparent and limited to the actual costs incurred by the District to maintain them and administer access thereto.
Second, the Committee should ensure that permits for constructing 5G infrastructure are issued in a timely and cost-effective manner. 5G deployments will require several different types of construction — including erecting new or replacement utility poles, collocating small cells on existing structures and stringing optical fiber to provide backhaul for each small cell. There should also be fee caps and deadlines for each type of construction.
As with right-of-way fees, the fees for obtaining construction permits should be non- discriminatory, transparent and limited to the actual costs borne by the District when processing applications. Similarly, timelines for processing permit applications should be predictable, which requires imposing clear deadlines on the approval process. These should also include a “deemed granted” remedy, which would allow providers to immediately begin construction if the clock runs out and no approval or denial has been issued, rather than having to file suit and obtain mandamus petitions simply to force action on the part of the District. These streamlined approvals will promote timely deployment that will allow consumers to realize the benefits of 5G sooner.
Third, the Committee should not impose any unnecessary burdens on broadband providers as a condition of accessing public rights-of-way. For example, demanding excessive in-kind contributions or requiring broadband providers to undergo unwarranted zoning reviews will ultimately raise deployment costs and slow the rollout of 5G services in the District.
Finally, the Committee should work closely with broadband providers to deploy 5G services in a way that preserves the historical and aesthetic beauty of Washington. This means reviewing permit applications to ensure deployments conform to reasonable design and concealment standards. Deployments that are neat and tidy will help ease communities into the 5G future, while minimizing the backlash and litigation that often result from messy ones.
In closing, 5G services have the potential to drastically improve both our economy and community. Accordingly, the Committee should implement these suggested reforms to ensure that D.C. citizens do not miss out on these benefits merely because of unnecessary regulatory barriers.
Jesse Kelley, Esq. State Affairs Manager, Criminal Justice