Small cells will no longer be subject to historic and environmental reviews under new rules adopted by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
FCC chairman Ajit Pai said the operator-backed decision will enable “more wireless innovation” and “American leadership in 5G” by accelerating next generation infrastructure deployments.
However, critics, including FCC commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, contended the order is problematic and skirts the FCC’s statutory obligations to protect historic sites and the environment.
In addition to exempting small cells from environmental and historic reviews, the measure streamlines reviews for larger wireless sites and specifies operators aren’t obligated to pay upfront fees for reviews by tribal nations. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly claimed the latter have become a “cash cow” for tribes at operators’ expense.
The order garnered widespread support from industry groups like CTIA and the Competitive Carriers Association, as well as all four tier-one US operators, which praised it as a boon for pre-5G small cell densification efforts.
But Rosenworcel noted not one tribe came out in support of the measure. Environmental and historic preservation advocates also lodged strong opposition, with the National Resources Defense Council noting it would seek “legal remedies” to contest the order.
Rosenworcel concluded: “This decision does not clear the way for 5G, does not make us 5G-ready and only guarantees a messy series of legal challenges will follow in its wake. I regret we did not delay today’s vote to fix these problems.”