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Blog

June 28, 2018

Modern Rules Are Needed to Build Our Wireless Future .

Modern Rules Are Needed to Build Our Wireless Future

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Kelly Cole
Senior Vice President, Government Affairs

America is in a global race to 5G, competing against nations like China, South Korea and Japan for the economic and consumer benefits that flow from leading the world in wireless.

5G networks are predicted to be like nothing we’ve ever seen before—100 times faster than 4G, five times more responsive, and able to support 100 times more devices. These capabilities make 5G key to unlocking the potential of the Internet of Things and supporting consumer demand for all things wireless. And being first to 5G will also have major economic benefits, from keeping the next generation of developers focused on innovating for and in the U.S., to creating new 5G jobs, to adding billions of dollars in investment to U.S. GDP.

To harness the spectrum required to fulfill 5G’s potential, wireless networks require a new kind infrastructure, called a small cell. In contrast to the 200-foot cell towers of yesterday, these small cells are about the size of a pizza box or a backpack. And they don’t often need their own site—they can be installed on existing infrastructure like utility poles, light posts or the sides of buildings.

The wireless industry needs to deploy hundreds of thousands of small cells in the next few years to make 5G a reality. Small cell deployments will escalate rapidly—from roughly 13,000 deployed in 2017 to over 800,000 deployed by 2026, according to Accenture.

Small cells can be installed in about an hour, but under rules designed decades ago for 200-ft cell towers, it can take more than a year to get the necessary government approvals. At the recent CTIA Race to 5G Summit, industry leaders spoke about the efficiencies of coordinated, national approaches to wireless infrastructure—like those implemented in China, South Korea and Japan:

“[O]ther countries are moving faster than us in… how they build infrastructure. It 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 it. A small cell that can fit in your backpack. So, that has to change if we really want to take the lead with 5G.”– John Saw, CTO, Sprint

“[China, South Korea and Japan] have been very thoughtful about what this potential [5G] transformation could mean, to their nations, to the fabric in society… [T]he three large carriers in China have access to no less than two million sites. There is one regulator that decides how zoning gets done and how permitting gets done…” – Niklas Heuveldop, SVP, Head of Market Area North America, Ericsson

With China, South Korea and others looking to unseat the U.S. as the world leader in wireless, we need policymakers to act quickly and help by implementing modern rules for modern networks. The STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act (S. 3157), introduced by Senators Thune (R-SD) and Schatz (D-HI) takes a critical step in that direction by setting national guidelines for 5G infrastructure deployment, while preserving the rights and authorities of state and local governments. This balanced and forward-looking approach should be commended.

The STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act updates decades-old federal rules to reflect the scale and ease of small cell installations by setting three main siting guidelines:

  • Siting authorities should process applications in a reasonable amount of time.
    The STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act sets a 90 day (60 day for equipment that is installed on existing infrastructure) timeline for localities to approve, deny or otherwise act on an infrastructure siting application. If an application is not acted on in that time, the bill eliminates the need for costly and time-consuming litigation. The bill also provides appropriate and targeted relief for very small communities by setting longer timelines.
  • Fees for processing siting applications should be sensible and cost-based.
    The STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act requires that local governments retain the right to charge for access to government-owned property for infrastructure siting purposes, and that such rates need only be fair and reasonable, competitively and technologically neutral, based on actual costs, and publicly disclosed. Such common sense standards will allow for fair and clear treatment of infrastructure applications, driving greater broadband deployment to more and more communities.
  • All siting applications should be reviewed under fair, transparent standards.
    The STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act clarifies existing federal law, designed to prevent unreasonable prohibitions on broadband deployment, by stating that unfair or overly broad restrictions—like unreasonable and discriminatory application review guidelines—are prohibited as barriers to the broadband deployment we want as a nation.

The STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act is an important step in setting clear guidance for federal, state and local governments to build efficient siting processes and bring the power of 5G to communities across the country.

The wireless industry looks forward to continuing to work with federal, state and local stakeholders to develop balanced, thoughtful policies like those in the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act. With a clear national framework in place, the wireless industry is poised to invest $275 billion dollars to deploy 5G networks, generating $500 billion in economic growth and three million new jobs for American families and businesses.

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