The chair of the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee today said she would ask FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to authorize the creation of an “ad hoc sub group” to look into issues related to antenna collocations and associated expansions of the “compound” or ground space around the tower allotted for power backup and other uses.
BDAC Chair Elizabeth Bowles, who is president and chair of Aristotle, Inc., was responding to a proposal by BDAC member Larry Hanson, who is executive director of the Georgia Municipal Association. Mr. Hanson raised the issue in the wake of remarks earlier in the meeting by BDAC member Jonathan Adelstein, who sought the support of other BDAC members for two pending petitions to the FCC to further streamline the deployment of wireless infrastructure. The petitions were filed by the Wireless Infrastructure Association, which Mr. Adelstein heads.
The petitions, which were filed last month, ask the FCC to take steps to enable the industry to get relief under section 6409 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which directs states and localities to approve “any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station” (TR Daily, Aug. 27).
Specifically, in a petition for declaratory ruling in WT docket 17-79, WIA asked the FCC “to clarify that (i) Section 6409(a) and the implementing regulations apply to all state and local authorizations required to deploy new or replacement transmission equipment on existing wireless towers or base stations; (ii) the Section 6409(a) shot clock begins to run when an applicant makes a good faith attempt to request local approval; (iii) the substantial change criteria in Section 1.6100(b)(7) of the Commission’s rules should be narrowly interpreted; (iv) ‘conditional’ approvals of eligible facilities requests (‘EFRs’) violate Section 6409(a); and (v) localities may not establish processes or impose conditions that effectively defeat or reduce the protections afforded under Section 6409(a).”
In a separate petition for rulemaking, WIA said the FCC “should update its rules to: (i) ensure that collocations requiring limited compound expansions—excavation within 30 feet of a tower site—qualify for relief under Section 6409(a) … and the FCC’s implementing regulations; and (ii) require that fees associated with Eligible Facilities Requests (‘EFRs’) for the provision of telecommunications services must be cost-based. Such carefully defined action will be consistent with the purposes of Section 6409(a)—to facilitate broadband deployment by eliminating barriers to collocating new transmission equipment on existing wireless towers, and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996—to ‘encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans.’”
At today’s BDAC meeting, which included presentations by the three working groups on the initial stages of their efforts to develop recommendations to the FCC on various subjects, Mr. Adelstein, who is vice chairman of the BDAC’s disaster response and recovery working group, prefaced that group’s presentation with a call for “action the FCC can take right now,” rather than waiting for BDAC recommendations.
He said he is “hearing from a lot of our member companies” about issues facing owners and operators of wireless infrastructure, including barriers slowing the deployment of the nationwide public safety broadband network being overseen by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).
Mr. Adelstein noted that Congress required that the FirstNet public safety network “collocate as much as possible,” creating a “critical need to expand compounds at cell sites” to accommodate generators for backup power for the added antennas. However, he said, there is “a discrepancy in FCC rules that won’t allow compound expansions with collocations,” which is the reason WIA filed its petitions.
Noting that CTIA has filed similar petitions (TR Daily, Sept. 9), Mr. Adelstein “encourage[d] everyone around the table to file comments.”
Comments on the WIA and CTIA petitions are due Oct. 15 and replies Oct. 30 in WT docket 19-250, WC docket 17-84, and Rulemaking 11849.
Later in the day, Mr. Hanson said that in listening to the discussion of the petitions by Mr. Adelstein, “it struck me that those types of issues are the very reason the BDAC was created.” He added that he believes that “always before issuing a new regulation, we should consider collaboration.”
He asked Ms. Bowles to appoint a working group to consider issues raised in the petition for rulemaking that are “not just clarification of existing rules.”
At first, Ms. Bowles urged Mr. Hanson to reach out to Mr. Adelstein and Red Grass, the chairman of the disaster response and recovery working group, who is FirstNet’s state point of contact for North Carolina and who works for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, and to get back to her if he still felt the need for a new working group after that.
At that point, BDAC member Nancy Werner, general counsel of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, said, “I support what Larry had to say about forming a working group or ad hoc group … to discuss these collocation issues that came up.” She added that it seemed that the petitions are seeking FCC actions without local government input. “I think if we worked together, we could come up with creative solutions,” she said.
Ms. Bowles said, “If I understand, Larry is proposing an ad hoc working group for carriers, tower companies, and local governments to work together on collocation issues.”
Mr. Adelstein said, “We can do it together. … Whether it’s through BDAC or not, I’m agnostic.” He also said, “We’re not talking about new rules. We did two petitions. One was a petition for rulemaking.”
“I think a dialog is welcome,” Mr. Adelstein said, emphasizing that “these are deployments that are going to implicate public safety.”
Mr. Hanson said, “I was never a fan of new legislation based on a few bad actors. … We need to have the opportunity to sit down and vet those stories” about barriers to deployment imposed by local governments.
Ms. Bowles said, “We’re not really in the business of recommending legislation. We are in the business of recommending best practices.”
BDAC member Kelly McGriff, vice president and deputy GC of Uniti Group, said, “Each one of us is a person of goodwill. … It’s never a bad idea to put together a group of people who can sit down and work together.”
Mr. McGriff added, “I think it’s a terrific idea and I’m glad you brought it forward, Larry.”
Crown Cast senior VP and GC Ken Simon agreed, “We should engage with each other. … One question I would have is [what is] the best platform for that.” He suggested trying to have those discussions “first within the existing working group structure.”
Mr. Hanson said, “I thought some of the issues discussed this morning were outside the scope of disaster recovery.”
Ms. Bowles agreed that “the issues are bigger than the disaster recovery group.” She added, “We’re hearing positive [support] for the ad hoc subgroup.” She said she would have to consult with the FCC before she could create such a group, and that FCC Chairman Pai would “have to approve” before she could create it.
The disaster response and recovery working group is targeting March of 2020 for delivery of its final report, Mr. Grasso said during the group’s presentation.
Among the issues the group is already looking at are the challenges to information sharing and the possible need for nondisclosure agreements. The group also emphasized the benefits of “defining the problem and not the solution.” He cited the example of someone requesting a SAT-COW to deal with a cellsite that wasn’t working during a power outage, rather than requesting more fuel for the site’s back-up generator. Ask for help with the problem, “instead of making a request based on the solution they think they need,” is the lesson to be drawn, he said.
During the discussion of the disaster response working group’s presentation, David Young, fiber infrastructure and right of way manager for the city of Lincoln, Neb., said that instead of expanding the footprint to install a generator, “if we were looking at hardening those sites we would be building those facilities underground.”
Mr. Adelstein said, “Sometimes hardening everything isn’t the best use of money,” which could instead be used to expand broadband service to additional areas.
Mr. Young said, “If we’re going to do it we should do it once and get it right. … We need to have a conversation around requiring hardened infrastructure.”
“That’s an issue our working group is talking about,” Mr. Adelstein said.
Mr. Simon of Crown Castle said, “Collocation absolutely will help improve resiliency,” adding that compound expansion will also enable the installation of edge data processing centers, “which will also help with resiliency.”
Mr. Young said that the goal should be “requiring battery backup and having those batteries installed underground,” as opposed to “creating problems from the past, with leaking propane tanks in neighborhoods [and] big propane tanks outside of houses.”
BDAC member Allen Bell, distribution support manager for Georgia Power Southern Co., said, “If you want to partner on power, the way to do it is not to have regulation where you beat us with sticks. … Fast, cheap deployment does not equate to resilient networks.”
Mr. Simon said, “We would welcome that partnership.”
BDAC member Leticia Latino, president and chief executive officer of Neptuno, said, “Often people are not documenting what is on site,” which is “a huge factor” during disaster recovery efforts. “You’re bringing in teams from other areas and they’re going in not knowing what they’re going to find.”
Mr. Grasso said, “Part of it comes down to a conversation based on stale information. A two-year old map may not be that useful.” He suggested that the working group’s emphasis on on-going dialog ahead of disasters would help address that issue.
Chris Nurse, assistant VP–state legislative and regulatory affairs for AT&T, Inc., expressed concern that sharing maps of infrastructure and facilities ahead of time is akin to “laying out, ‘here’s the most vulnerable part of the network. Attack here.’”
Charles McKee, VP–government affairs, federal and state regulatory for Sprint Corp. agreed that “we don’t want to draw maps showing people where things are,” both for fear of exposing physical vulnerabilities and for fear of exposing competitive information.
Mr. Young said that municipalities have been maps of public power and public water infrastructure for decades. “I think we can accomplish the same thing with broadband mapping,” he said.
The broadband infrastructure job skills and training working group would like to address issues of diversity and inclusion in the workforce, although that issue was not mentioned in its charge from the FCC, BDAC member and working group Vice Chair Rikin Thakker said. Mr. Thakker is VP–telecommunications and spectrum policy at the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC).
The working group established three subgroups to identify stakeholders in different areas and the skill gap challenges faced in those areas.
Ms. Latino, the working group chair, said that she doesn’t want the group “to produce a huge document. … It has to be actionable.”
Mr. Simons suggested the group “think about certification or credentialing” of workers.
The increasing broadband investment in low-income communities working group has created two subgroups to focus on deployment and adoption, respectively, working group Chair and BDAC member Tom Ferree, who is chairman and CEO of Connected Nation, added. He said the group hopes to have a rough draft report ready in November and a “final rough draft report” ready for the BDAC’s meeting in early December.
Brian O’Hara, representing the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association at the meeting, said that “electric cooperatives have been very successful in helping low-income individuals keep the lights on.” He said NRECA is pulling together materials on the methods they use and would like to share it with the working group.
The next meeting of the BDAC is scheduled to span two days on Dec. 2 and 3.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the BDAC, emphasizing his interest in the work of the broadband infrastructure job skills and training working group. He said the tower industry could “absorb 20,000 workers – about double what we have now. —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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