A couple months ago, the FCC unanimously adopted an order streamlining the rules for tower marking and lighting.  That was the first in a series of Wireless Bureau items designed to remove regulatory obstacles to clear the way for more efficient broadband deployment.  The Bureau is now moving forward with an even more ambitious effort to rationalize the rules around tower siting and approvals. Reform in this area is not a simple exercise of cutting through regulatory red tape.

Tower deployment is governed by a complex web of environmental, historic, safety and tribal requirements that require input and approval from a broad range of federal, state and local governmental authorities and non-governmental entities.  Detailed programmatic agreements further define requirements and inform the scope of permissible reform.  Yet modernization of the rules is essential, as the current requirements inhibit efficient broadband deployment, particularly given the continued movement by the wireless industry toward more low profile antennas and equipment and builds on existing non-tower structures.

At AT&T, infrastructure deployment is a prime directive.   For the past six years (2008-2013), AT&T has invested more in United States infrastructure than any other U.S. public company.  And we expect to continue that investment in the $21 billion range this year. That’s why the FCC’s focus on infrastructure deployment is so welcome.

The item circulated by the Bureau last week is expected to contain a series of straight-forward and sensible reforms consistent with programmatic requirements that will expedite environmental and historic preservation review of new and modified wireless facilities.  We also believe the item will provide much needed clarification of certain federal statutes that were enacted to streamline state and local review of wireless infrastructure proposals.

For example, consider small cell deployments.  AT&T has long argued that streamlining facility siting for low profile antennas and associated small cell equipment will create significant incentives to expedite broadband deployment, particularly in highly congested or hard to deploy areas.  Protracted review of low profile small cell deployments is unnecessary and imposes unreasonable costs on licensees and structure owners alike who could otherwise invest those resources in network facilities.

We believe that the draft item will propose much needed modernization of Commission regulations that will allow for more efficient and timely small cell deployments. Similarly, we anticipate that the item will permit the collocation of new antennae without additional approvals in certain limited circumstances, for example on rooftops where a visible antenna already exists or within close proximity to an existing antenna array.  And we expect the item to clarify certain statutory definitions that create new opportunities for efficient infrastructure builds.

Modern wireless networks will increasingly rely on a broad mix of macro sites, distributed antenna systems and small cell builds.  The item pending for a vote recognizes this new reality and promises measured but material relief for all these deployment profiles to the benefit of wireless consumers everywhere.

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