Monday, July 09, 2018

STREAMLINE 5G Processes to Match the Speed of Business

STREAMLINE 5G Processes to Match the Speed of Business

by Gregory J. Vogt

Global preparations are underway to ensure that 5G wireless deployment occurs at the speed of business. Consumers are hungry for wireless solutions to age-old problems. The significant 5G advances in broadband speed, capacity, and latency promise to produce a new leap forward in modern communications technology.

The innovations 5G technology permits – indeed, creates – could produce disruptive revolutions in a number of industries, including automotive, medicine, and education, just to name a few. But the current 5G conceptualizations cannot become a reality without determining a path forward. Government processes can interfere with such a path, absent streamlining when it is in order.

Senators John S. Thune (R-SD) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) recently introduced the Streamlining the Rapid Evolution and Modernization of Leading-edge Infrastructure Necessary to Enhance (STREAMLINE) Small Cell Deployment Act (S. 3157) which focuses on a big piece of the path forward. STREAMLINE, a bipartisan ray of sunshine, would:

·     Establish a 90-day deadline for localities to act on an infrastructure siting application (60 days for existing towers, with longer periods for small communities);
·     Ensure that fees for applications are fair and reflect only the publicly disclosed actual costs incurred; and
·     Ensure that all siting applications are reviewed on a technology neutral basis and are not based on overly broad and unfair restrictions that impede broadband deployment. 

Why is STEAMLINE so important?  An April 2018 report conducted by Analysys Mason, “Global Race to 5G- Spectrum and Infrastructure Plans and Priorities,” identified infrastructure as one of the two issues (the other is spectrum availability) that places United States behind China in terms of overall leadership in 5G technology. Recon Analytics has already reported the significant consumer welfare advantages to the United States in being the leader in 4G technology. Therefore, “winning the race” for 5G leadership is more than macho bravado. It has significant potential to bolster future national wealth that can redound to the benefit of millions of Americans in terms of jobs, economic growth, and technological innovation.  Accenture estimates that the wireless industry could invest up to $275 billion in 5G networks over seven years, growing GDP by $500 billion and adding 3 million new jobs.

Some zoning authorities and other municipal offices have been uncooperative with wireless siting applications, including imposing unreasonably high costs as well as creating lengthy delays. 5G will require rapid deployment of a large number of small cells. Deployment will be undermined by those jurisdictions that are not friendly to technological innovation.

A number of states have passed legislation that impose duties on cities and other government zoning authorities to reasonably process wireless siting applications, including those for the small cells necessary for 5G deployment. Although these state laws are highly beneficial, they remain both a patchwork and an incomplete effort in providing infrastructure access throughout the nation, including in rural America. National legislation such as STREAMLINE would impose a uniform minimum standard in terms of application costs and time of processing, essential to 5G, which will be a national, not state or local, business.

For its part, the Federal Communications Commission issued a wireless infrastructure rulemaking that potentially seeks to preempt local zoning authority restrictions on small cell deployment. But complete resolution of that portion of the infrastructure rulemaking has been pending for over a year, and there continues to be controversy concerning the rules that might be adopted. The rules adopted are likely to be challenged in court, particularly by organizations of cities and/or states, which almost always appeal the exercise of FCC preemptive authority. Although the FCC in the past has been fairly successful in using judicious preemption of state and local laws to ensure reasonable and nondiscriminatory permitting processes, federal legislation would provide a more uniform and certain path to establish prompt and reasonably priced siting application processes.

I am particularly encouraged that STEAMLINE is a bipartisan bill introduced, apparently, after some negotiations with both industry and governmental organizations. Senators Thune and Schatz are to be congratulated for introducing STREAMLINE. I hope that the bill, or one substantially similar, can be rapidly passed by the Senate and taken up in the House. Legislation like the STREAMLINE bill, coupled with the spectrum allocation provisions of MOBILE NOW (included in RAY BAUM’s Act), would materially advance the ability of the United States to be the global leader in the 5G revolution and benefit America’s consumers.