Local Officials to FCC: We’re Not the Ones Impeding 5G

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

A group of mostly mayors encouraged the Federal Communications Commission to refocus its efforts on new broadband investment, instead of preempting their oversight of public rights of way.

A group of 36 local elected officials, mostly mayors, sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday criticizing its efforts to undercut their jurisdictions’ oversight of 5G deployment.

Additionally, independent researcher RVA LLC surveyed 176 local government employees and found 44 percent of their communities had already deployed small cells, with 26 percent considering doing so.

The officials pointed to the findings as proof local governments aren’t impeding rapid 5G deployment sought by the U.S. wireless industry in its race with China, a narrative perpetuated by several FCC commissioners. One of three Republicans on the commission, Michael O’Rielly called for preemption of localities “trying to extract a bounty” from wireless carriers over 5G.

“It’s very disappointing the commissioners appear to think we’re trying to find a cash cow here or something,” said Ponca City, Oklahoma Mayor Homer Nicholson, who signed the letter, on a call with reporters. “I’d like for the commissioners to be a little bit more informed before they make those types of comments.”

Where a line was drawn by the signatories—among them the mayors of San José, California; Austin, Texas; and Seattle—was with the FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee’s draft rules lessening what carriers pay jurisdictions for use of public rights of way. San José Mayor Sam Liccardo recently resigned from the BDAC over its lack of local government representation.

Of the local government employees surveyed, 84 percent characterized proposed state legislation regulating small cell poll use as negative for their communities, 59 percent were concerned about state laws preempting cities, and 52 percent said the same of federal regulations.

“By failing to charge a reasonable fee to companies wanting to use public space, such low limits are a de facto subsidization of private business by local taxpayers,” reads the letter. “Some communities are finding that the increased number of small cell applications and permits require the hiring of additional staff, and when combined with the limits on compensation, this will likely result in further subsidization.”

Local governments further pushed back against against the notion they’re slowing investment in 5G and wireline investment, citing model agreements made with wireless carriers in Boston and Lincoln, Nebraska—“successful approaches” banned in states like Florida. The Sunshine State sees local governments compensated $150 per location per year compared to the national median $1,200 lease rate, according to the survey.

Instead the local officials’ letter urged the FCC to encourage new broadband investment and review the make-ready process in the case of fiber network deployments.

“We’re able to accomplish much more at cheaper prices if we’re able to control some of the mechanisms in our city,” said Ammon, Idaho Mayor Sean Coletti.

Ammon developed an open-access system delivering affordable municipal fiber to the home in partnership with internet service providers.

Small cell deployment correlates with that of fiber, per the survey, with 95 percent of communities exceeding 500,000 residents at least considering installation of 5G technology if fiber was already in place. By contrast, only 21 percent of communities with less than 50,000 residents and no fiber reported movement on 5G.

Fayetteville, Arkansas recently passed a broadband infrastructure ordinance after conferring with six different providers on permitting parameters that stressed aesthetics.

Citizens complained about the look of the infrastructure in 58 percent of communities, according the survey, while 42 percent worried about safety issues—lopsided polls being one example.

“All providers agreed to keep our city’s character intact,” said Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan, though he worried state preemption might ultimately undo the deal.