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WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to restrict the abilities of local municipalities to govern public rights of way when considering the installation of small-cell wireless facilities within their jurisdictions.

The FCC’s proposal would establish a series of mistimed shot clocks requiring local governments to approve the deployment of facilities within a set time period. More importantly, this plan would limit the fees local governments are allowed to charge providers for using local rights of way, such as public utility poles, to deploy so-called 5G and other “next generation” wireless technologies.

Instead of allowing industry and municipalities to negotiate terms and letting the cities recover their actual costs, the decision suggests fee caps at levels predetermined by the FCC. The agency also warns municipalities not to act on the needs and interests of their residents if those costs exceed the FCC’s approximations.

The vote had been opposed by many city governments that favor negotiating carrier access to public facilities on their own terms. These municipalities believe they have the right to charge appropriate fees for 5G providers seeking to install small-cell devices or other network elements on public infrastructure.

Free Press Policy Manager Dana Floberg made the following statement:

“This is yet another giveaway from Chairman Pai to wireless giants like AT&T and Verizon. With no discernible benefit to deployment of 5G wireless facilities to underserved areas, this order would preempt local government authority and deprive communities of the right to determine collection of funds — all in the name of marginally lowering costs for wireless giants.

“The FCC majority wants to frame this decision as an effort to bridge the digital divide by, in their words,  removing barriers to 5G wireless deployment. They’ve made the ludicrous suggestion that municipalities have created those barriers and hold all of the power at the bargaining table against the hundred-billion-dollar companies.

“But, by and large, local governments are inviting new deployment, not resisting it. Many municipalities have already made substantial efforts to clear the way for 5G deployment, while others have invested resources in developing digital-inclusion projects to close the digital divide within their communities.

“Placing the blame for disconnected communities primarily on municipal authorities is merely a distraction from the unfortunate reality that wireless companies and others often refuse to serve or upgrade in poor and rural areas because they don’t see the profit in it.

“Rather than address this difficult economic problem, the FCC has resorted to willfully simplistic and fallacious reasoning: By limiting the amount that local governments can charge wireless companies in the aggregate to access public rights of way, the FCC has chosen to protect the carriers from depleting their resources in profitable areas before they ever get around to deploying in underserved areas.

“Just because the FCC’s order might save the carriers a paltry 1 percent of their 5G deployment costs does not mean that money would be reinvested in communities stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide. As we’ve seen time and again in the telecommunications sector, such trickle-down economics never bear fruit for those seeking affordable connections. Carriers didn’t appreciably invest more in their networks even in response to the mammoth windfall and tax breaks they received from the Trump administration. Once again, the FCC is allowing industry to run roughshod over communities with zero accountability.

“The FCC majority and the wireless giants they’re taking cues from are reducing underserved communities to a bargaining chip, cynically exploiting the digital divide to justify yet another handout to industry. Today’s action won’t encourage 5G deployment in any meaningful way, nor will it bring us any closer to the universal, open and affordable internet access our communities need and deserve.”

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