Ericsson, PCIA press Congress to speed up wireless gear installations on federal lands

Both PCIA and Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC) pushed Congress to streamline the installation of wireless network equipment on federal lands, arguing that the process right now is too cumbersome.

Last week at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he wants to write new legislation governing broadband deployment before the end of this session of Congress in early 2017. According to Broadcasting & Cable, Thune, the committee's chairman, said it was among "the most important work that can be done by the committee," especially in terms of expanding broadband access in rural areas. He added that without infrastructure, smartphones are just "expensive paperweights."

PCIA President Jonathan Adelstein noted that a White House-sponsored board called the Broadband Opportunity Council, which was created to increase broadband investment and adoption, released a report on Sept. 21 that recommended that federal agencies should further streamline access to federal lands, structures and rights of way to spur broadband deployment.

Yet Adelstein, a former FCC commissioner and head of the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service, also criticized what called "the byzantine process of siting wireless broadband infrastructure on federal lands." He noted the federal government owns or administers nearly 30 percent of all land in the U.S., as well as thousands of buildings, and that "broadband providers currently face significant challenges when working to secure access to federal lands and buildings."

Adelstein pressed for legislation that will spur federal agencies "to work with the industry to bring broadband service to difficult-to-reach federal lands and federal buildings." PCIA is throwing its weight behind a bill called the "Wireless Innovation Act" to address the issue and speed up the deployment of infrastructure.

"By facilitating access, the federal government can increase revenues through lease payments to the Treasury while at the same time improving broadband access for its citizens," Adelstein said. "Better access to federal lands and property will also help increase broadband availability in rural areas. The importance of expanding rural broadband is clear. Many of the lands and properties that would benefit from streamlined siting are by definition rural. We look forward to continuing to work with both chambers on legislation to streamline and expedite the process of siting broadband infrastructure on federal property."

During his testimony, Adelstein told the senators that average negotiations with the federal government take about four years, according to Law360, and noted a PCIA member that has tried for 10 years to get a cell tower sited along a California highway where service is consistently poor.

"Our members are loathe to go into federal lands," Adelstein said after being asked why none of the 14 cell towers in a federal forest in West Virginia had applications for use from wireless industry companies.

Douglas Kinkoph, an official at the National Telecommunications and Information Agency, said the agency will help the Department of Interior give the industry greater clarity on how the roughly 4,000 towers on federal land could be used to aid wireless broadband deployment, according to Law360.

Meanwhile, Bruce Morrison, vice president of operations and network build at Ericsson North America, told the committee that Congress should do more across the board to speed up broadband deployments. He said lawmakers should streamline "access and jurisdictional processes for the installation and deployment of dark fiber and small cell technology" and standardize the "application process for the deployment of wireless infrastructure on federally owned buildings and property," which would be covered under the Wireless Innovation Act.

Morrison also pushed Congress to advance "a regulatory approach that allows the quick deployment of small cells in metropolitan jurisdictions" and also develop "requirements or support for shared infrastructure and hardening." For example, he noted, at a typical cell tower, each wireless carrier has its own generator, but shared infrastructure would mean that only one generator is required per site.

A deployment that can take as little as two weeks with commercial property can take years when federal property is involved, Morrison said, according to Law360.  "Each federal department has its own process," he said. "It's not standardized. The rules aren't the same. There's no set checklist. We just need a simple checklist. We're happy to fill out all the requirements."

For more:
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article
- see this Law360 article 

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