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September 5, 2018

Making the U.S. 5G Ready With Infrastructure Reform .

Making the U.S. 5G Ready With Infrastructure Reform

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Scott Bergmann
Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs

Yesterday, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr announced that the agency will vote to modernize the national framework for the siting of wireless infrastructure later this month. The Commission’s proposed action will boost America’s economy—and position the U.S. for global leadership in 5G.

At CTIA’s Race to 5G event earlier this year, Sprint CTO John Saw framed exactly how infrastructure reform in the U.S. is essential, noting that “[i]t takes weeks to get a permit in some countries like China, and it takes us years to get a permit to build one small cell. But it takes us an hour to install … [a] small cell that can fit in your backpack. So, that has to change if we really want to take the lead with 5G.”

Specifically, the FCC is considering national guideposts—including clear timelines and cost-based fees—around state and local siting practices. Here’s why the agency’s proposal is so important:

Enabling Tomorrow’s Innovations. To keep pace with the increased use of wireless data—nearly quadrupling since 2014—and build out 5G networks, wireless providers will need to deploy roughly 800,000 small cells in the next few years. 5G—powered by these small cells—will enable new innovations, including the Internet of Things, smart cites, and autonomous cars.

We need to ensure that leadership of the industries of the future and tomorrow’s advancements in health care, transportation, energy are not exported overseas by ceding 5G innovation to others.  Today’s announcement will help the U.S. continue on the right path for continued wireless leadership.

Boosting the Economy. 5G was already projected to spur $275 billion in wireless investment—creating 3 million jobs and growing the economy by $500 billion. Underscoring the impact of infrastructure reforms like those proposed by the FCC, Accenture recently found that we could unleash an additional $100 billion to the U.S. economy if we could speed up 5G wireless infrastructure deployments by 12 months.

Estimated Impact of Infrastructure Reform

is unknown

Estimated Impact of Infrastructure Reform

Bridging the Digital Divide. Infrastructure modernization will also lower the cost of next-generation network deployment, helping enable more wireless services in more areas. As a group of farmers and ranchers noted recently, “Regulatory red tape … directly increases deployment costs in rural areas. At the same time, high fees in urban areas consume providers’ limited capital, leaving less for deployment in rural areas.”

By bending the cost curve, this reform will help drive 5G to more communities faster. In fact, a recent Corning study estimated that reform efforts—like what the FCC has proposed—could lead to over $2.5 billion in additional wireless investment in rural and suburban areas.

Creating New Rules for New Wireless Networks. Some states and localities have taken steps to update their siting rules and fees as wireless infrastructure has evolved from 200-foot cell towers to small cells the size of a backpack. These efforts are laudable and reflect local leaders’ awareness that their communities will benefit by being among the first beneficiaries of 5G investment and deployment thanks to these reforms.

Yet too many municipalities continue outdated practices and impose cost structures that delay service and deter investment. For instance, we’ve seen denials of access to municipal-owned utility poles, mandates to place all wireless facilities underground along rights-of-way, and requirements to prove the existence of coverage gaps—not to mention lengthy, local government-imposed delays on siting applications and excessive fees that far outpace costs incurred.

With over nineteen thousand cities and towns in the U.S., this complex web of local rules varies, municipality by municipality, impeding the efficient deployment of wireless networks that seek to meet the growing demand for high-speed mobile broadband, from consumers to businesses both large and small. National siting standards will address this regulatory labyrinth, fostering investment and speeding construction of the 5G networks that will power our wireless future.

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It only takes about an hour or two to install a small cell. But approval can take a couple of years. Federal reform of state and local reviews is essential to the next-generation of wireless.

Ensuring a Balanced, Nationwide Approach. Every level of government—federal, state, and local—has a role in developing new rules for new wireless networks. That includes Congress, which over twenty years ago established the rapid deployment of wireless infrastructure of a national priority and set nationwide guidelines for how localities can treat siting requests.

Specific provisions give force to this national policy by prohibiting state and local actions that “may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting” service. In turn, the FCC has found that this includes actions that inhibit or limit providers’ ability to “compete in a fair and balanced legal and regulatory environment.”

What the FCC has proposed is to ensure that such a fair and balanced environment exists across the country. The agency’s approach recognizes the important role localities play in siting reviews, while also ensuring consumers and businesses can access the wireless services they demand today—as well as the wireless networks of tomorrow.

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Establishing this national baseline for wireless siting is critical. States and localities, of course, can take additional steps to compete for 5G investment capital. And with new 5G markets being announced nearly every month, they would be smart to do just that.

But federal guideposts, like those announced yesterday, will expedite wireless deployment and provide the clarity that applicants and local communities need. In doing so, the FCC will help close the digital divide, unlock the full potential of 5G networks, and unleash economic benefits for Americans across the country.

The U.S. wireless industry is committed to continued American leadership as we transition to 5G—bringing more innovation and more deployments to more communities across the country. Reforms like the FCC is proposing show that U.S. policymakers are committed to that same goal, and together, we can—and must—continue our shared efforts.

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