By Bob Duchen, Vice President
River Oaks Communications Corporation
In October, the FCC issued a new Order (14-153) requiring local governments to work faster and more efficiently to approve modification Applications for Cellular Facilities (for example, placing new antennas on existing structures). However, there are numerous procedural steps that local governments can take to protect their interests and constituents. Additionally, when a local government acts in its proprietary capacity as a landowner, it can still negotiate favorable leases and establish its own timeframes to do so.
This Order updates the FCC’s “Shot Clock” Order which required local governments to approve Cellular Applications in 90 or 150 days. This new Order requires even faster municipal approval (in some cases, 60 days) for basic changes or upgrades involving collocation, removal or replacement of transmission equipment. If your local government fails to timely act and if this is a Section 6409(a) Application, the provider’s Application will be deemed granted upon notification from the provider.
The Order is designed to “… further facilitate the delivery of more wireless capacity in more locations to consumers throughout the United States.” The Order, though, does not ensure fair and thorough coverage. In several instances, the Order allows cellular providers to move quickly and with a great deal of flexibility. However, local governments can still require an Application and information regarding Building and Safety Codes, Stealth Facilities, Changes in Size to Towers or Base Stations and other pertinent matters. Additionally, the Order implements new rules with respect to Distributed Antenna Systems (“DAS”) and Small Cell Sites.
Efficient cellular approval processes may be a good thing; however, making local governments react in a very short amount of time is not (60 days to approve an eligible facilities request if the modification meets the federal criteria of not substantially changing the physical dimensions of the existing tower or base station). Make sure you require an Application from the cellular provider to ensure that it is actually entitled to expedited handling since not all Applications qualify for expedited treatment.
The 155-page Order is lengthy and complicated. We recommend studying this new Order to determine what changes to your Codes, Regulations, Applications and other Forms are needed to achieve compliance with the upcoming new mandatory federal requirements. Further, a local government should review its existing leases to determine under what circumstances providers would need further local government approval to add other antennas or facilities or to sublease space.
If your municipality needs help and guidance, the New Mexico Municipal League and River Oaks Communications Corporation (“River Oaks”) are here to assist. River Oaks (www.rivoaks.com), which is based in Colorado, is a long-time telecommunications consultant to local governments in the West and throughout the country. River Oaks can help you understand the FCC Order and work with you to handle and review cellular providers’ Applications and timely update your Codes, Regulations, Forms, Application Processes and Leases.
Do not be confused by cellular companies’ Application requests. Make sure that they actually meet the new federal criteria as you carefully consider their Applications to deploy more Towers, Antennas, Base Stations and equipment in your community.