Thune, Schatz Introduce Bill to Streamline Small Cell Deployment
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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thune, Schatz Introduce Bill to Streamline Small Cell Deployment

Sens. John Thune (R., S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii), the ranking member of the communications, technology, innovation, and the Internet subcommittee, introduced broad legislation today designed to streamline the deployment of small cells.

The Streamlining The Rapid Evolution And Modernization of Leading-edge Infrastructure Necessary to Enhance Small Cell Deployment Act (or STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act) (S 3157) would impose deadlines for state and local action on small cell applications and include a “deemed granted” remedy sought by the wireless industry if deadlines were missed. It also would impose restrictions on the fees that states and localities can charge for processing applications or using the rights of way.

A number of the bill’s actions are under consideration at the FCC, and 20 states have passed laws to facilitate the deployment of small cells.

“New mobile technologies coming online will soon open doors to next-generation mobile broadband technology, but only in areas that have the needed infrastructure,” said Sen. Thune. “Many policies that made sense for the deployment of large and intrusive infrastructure are unduly burdensome when applied to the much smaller equipment now coming online. The STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act reduces barriers to deployment while reaffirming the rights of states and localities to make decisions based on transparent, objective, and reasonable criteria.”

“Developing and deploying the next generation of wireless technology will provide more Americans with access to the internet while giving us the chance to continue our global leadership and create millions of new jobs,” said Sen. Schatz. “This bill will advance the discussion on how to best update our national 5G infrastructure. I look forward to a robust debate as we move through the legislative process.”

A news release on the legislation said that key provisions include those that would set a “[r]easonable process and timeframe guidelines specific to small cell applications for state and local consideration[.]”

It noted that under the bill, (1) “[p]ermits must be approved or denied on publicly available criteria that are reasonable, objective, and non-discriminatory”; (2) “[s]mall cell applications may be denied or regulated for objective and reasonable structural engineering standards, safety requirements or aesthetic or concealment requirements”; (3) “[a]pplications must be acted on no later than 60 days for requests to collocate equipment and 90 days for other requests”; (4) “[f]lexibility and additional time is allowed for small municipalities (fewer than 50,000 residents)” and (5) the FCC would be empowered “to grant flexibility by issuing a one-time 30-day waiver of the timeframes required for action upon a request by a state or local government.”

Regarding flexibility for small localities, they would get 90 days to act on collocations if fewer than 50 small cell siting requests were filed in the previous 30 days and 120 days if 50 or more requests were filed. For non-collocations, the deadlines for action would be 120 days if fewer than 50 requests were filed and 150 days if 50 or more requests were filed.

States and localities would not be able to regulate small cells “on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that the facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations concerning such emissions.”

The bill also would require that “[f]ees must be publicly disclosed, competitively neutral, technology neutral, nondiscriminatory and based on actual and direct costs (including, for example, costs for maintenance and inspections).”

The bill would stipulate that judicial review of the failure to act by states or localities or of their decisions would be heard by courts in an expedited fashion.

The measure also would require the Government Accountability Office to produce a report within one year on “the process for obtaining a grant of a right-of-way to deploy broadband infrastructure on tribal land or on or near trust land, as defined in section 3765 of title 38, United States Code[.]”

“CTIA applauds Senators Thune and Schatz for their bipartisan leadership in introducing the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act (S. 3157),” said Meredith Attwell Baker, president and chief executive officer of the trade group. “This legislation will help America win the global 5G race by accelerating deployment of next-generation wireless infrastructure while preserving local authority. We thank Senators Thune and Schatz and urge Congress to move quickly on this important bill.”

Robert Fisher, Verizon Communications, Inc.’s senior vice president-federal government relations, said, “Verizon welcomes the introduction of the Streamline Small Cell Deployment Act. The legislation, sponsored by Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), provides a roadmap for the U.S. to win the global race to 5G by setting reasonable timeframes for small cell siting reviews and ensuring that associated fees are based on cost. This bipartisan legislation is an important and thoughtful kickoff to an important conversation about how best to modernize small cell deployment policy. We look forward to working with the bill sponsors, our partners, and policy stakeholders at all levels as Verizon delivers the promise of 5G.”

But Gerry Lederer, an attorney for Best, Best & Krieger LLP who represents local governments, told TR Daily, “While we are disappointed in the text of the bill that was introduced, we take both senators at their word that the introduction of the bill is the beginning of the dialogue, not the end. We look forward to having constructive conversations with both senators and their staffs to point out how this bill as currently drafted would do more harm than good.”- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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