FCC has authority to prevent cities from delaying tower site permitting process

Local municipalities cannot deny requests from wireless operators and tower companies to modify wireless equipment in cell sites, distributed antenna systems (DAS) and on towers if it doesn't substantially change the physical footprint of that equipment, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District.

The court ruled Dec. 18 that the FCC has the authority to prevent local authorities from hindering the permitting review process. The ruling comes after several cities and counties, including Montgomery County, Md., sued the FCC over its implementation of an October 2014 order in which the commission approved new rules designed to accelerate the deployment of wireless infrastructure.

One of the biggest sticking points for Montgomery County and the others was the 60-day shot clock, which says that after a company applies for tower citing approval it will be deemed granted after 60 days.

The U.S. Court of Appeals decision was lauded by PCIA-The Wireless Infrastructure Association. In a statement, PCIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein said that its members are in favor of the outcome. "We look forward to our continued work with municipalities to meet their constituents' growing demand for wireless data. PCIA has strongly supported the Infrastructure Order and its guidelines for implementation, and congratulate the FCC on this important win in its laudable efforts aimed at increasing broadband deployment," Adelstein said.

In the October 2014 Order, the FCC approved changes to the federal environmental review process to make it easier to deploy small cells as well as colocated equipment. Under the rules, the equipment includes not only gear on buildings and cell towers but also utility poles. The rules also exclude equipment associated with antennas, including wires and cables, from counting against a deployment.

The municipalities that sued said the FCC's order was unconstitutional, arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and otherwise illegal. They also claimed that the FCC's order violated the 10th Amendment and that it unreasonably defines several terms of the Spectrum Act, according to a Multichannel News report.

The Appeals Court, however, found that the FCC was implementing the statute properly and had the authority to interpret the statute as it did.

For more:
- see this Multichannel News article

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