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Verizon urged the FCC to take action to help clear what it called a “minefield” of municipal regulations around small cell deployments ahead of 5G.

In a filing with the Commission last week, Verizon asked the FCC to use its statutory authority to lay out “baseline requirements” for small cell citing. Specifically, the carrier asked the Commission to “declare that Section 253 of the Act prohibits states and localities from materially inhibiting or limiting the provision of service,” “update and clarify the shot clocks that apply to local approvals of small facility requests,” “declare that the pole attachment statute and rules require access to all poles,” and “place reasonable limits on tribal historic preservation reviews of small wireless facilities.”

The carrier said its request comes as it faces a “minefield of delays, overly burdensome requirements, and excessive fees to gain access to municipal rights-of-way, place facilities on municipally-owned poles, and get zoning approval for small wireless facilities” as part of its small cell expansion for 4G and 5G. Verizon also claimed carriers like itself also battle to gain “timely and reasonable” access to investor-owned utility poles and are stuck waiting on drawn-out historic preservation and tribal reviews.

According to the carrier, part of the problem is that existing local ordinances are aimed at the much larger and intrusive cell tower facilities of old rather than new small cell technology and are thus more stringent than then currently need to be. Additionally, Verizon alleged some municipalities and their consultants are more than aware of the network infrastructure changes coming down the pipe and are trying to position the rules to gain new revenue streams for local government.

“Without relief, many small cell deployments will face long delays and excessive costs, hindering both wireless broadband deployment and U.S. leadership in the race to 5G,” Verizon wrote.

The battle comes ahead of the move to next-generation 5G networks, which Verizon noted will require an estimated 10 to 100 times more antenna locations than current 3G and 4G networks. Small cell densification efforts have already begun, but carriers (perhaps most notably Sprint) have been tangled up in municipal delays that are slowing the rollouts.

Verizon’s assertions were supported by the Wireless Infrastructure Association, CTIA, and AT&T, which also urged the Commission to take action and guide local governments. However, municipal groups and local governments themselves, including the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors and Pennsylvania Municipal League, warned “further federal intervention in the well-established local right-of-way management process with respect to wireless facilities is ill advised.”

The Pennsylvania groups argued the blanket federal approached advocated by wireless industry players would undermine states’ rights, address a problem that doesn’t actually exist, and in the process achieve the opposite of accelerated deployments by failing to account for varying topography, character, zoning regulations, and utility presence and forcing municipalities to reconcile new federal mandates with their local approval processes.

“Pennsylvania municipalities have a strong desire for improved wireless broadband connectivity and technological innovation,” the Pennsylvania groups wrote. “In order to facilitate the new wave of 5G technology, the Commenters recognize that new and/or improved wireless infrastructure is both necessary and welcome in their communities. However, the siting of new facilities, especially in the public rights-of-way, should not undermine public safety and the municipalities’ credible judgment regarding the management and maintenance of their streets and roads.”

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