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FCC Announces Streamlined Historic Preservation Review for Collocation of Wireless Antennas, by Kevin Cookler and David Rines

August 18, 2016

FCC Announces Streamlined Historic Preservation Review for Collocation of Wireless Antennas

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced the signing of an inter-agency agreement to streamline the historic review process for collocations of wireless communications facilities, including deployments on utility poles, streetlights, and other structures that are located on or near historic properties.  This new, streamlined process applies to both commercial and private wireless installations and is intended to promote the deployment of wireless networks by commercial carriers, wireless internet service providers, and private network operators such as utilities.  This new process will also likely spur increased interest among communications providers in seeking collocation on existing buildings and on utility infrastructure, such as poles, transmission towers, or other structures. 

The FCC’s rules currently provide that a licensee that proposes to collocate an antenna on an existing structure must certify that grant of the authorization will not have an adverse effect on the environment, including on historic properties.  In 2001, the FCC, along with the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, adopted a Collocation Agreement that excludes most collocations on existing structures from the historic property review requirement, with a few defined exceptions. 

In August 2016, the FCC announced the formal amendment of the Collocation Agreement to expand the scope of exclusions from the historical review process to include additional deployments of “small” wireless facilities that meet certain volume limits.  Below is an overview of these newly-adopted exclusions.

Collocation of Wireless Antennas on Buildings and Non-Tower Structures Outside Historic Districts

An antenna may be mounted on an existing building or non-tower structure or in the interior of a building – regardless of the structure’s age – without undergoing the historic review process if:

    • The building or structure is outside the boundary of a historic district or, if the antenna is visible from the ground level of a historic district, the building or structure is located more than 250 feet outside the boundary of the historic district;

    • The building or structure is not a designated National Historic Landmark or listed in, or eligible for listing in, the National Register of Historic Places;

    • The licensee or structure owner has not received notice from the FCC regarding any complaints of adverse effects on historic properties;

    • The antennas and associated equipment do not exceed certain specified volume limits; and

    • The depth and width of any proposed ground disturbance does not exceed that of any previous ground disturbance.

Collocation of Wireless Antennas On Buildings and Non-Tower Structures in Historic Districts or on Historic Properties

An antenna may be mounted (1) on an existing building or non-tower structure or in the interior of a building that is a historic property, or (2) in or within 250 feet of the boundary of a historic district without undergoing the historic review process if:

    • The property on which the equipment will be deployed is not a designated National Historic Landmark;

    • The antenna or antenna enclosure is the only equipment that is visible from the ground level or from public spaces within the building;

    • No other antennas on the building or structure are visible from the ground level or from public spaces within the building;

    • The antenna is no more than three cubic feet in volume and is installed using stealth techniques;

    • The antenna’s associated equipment meets certain visibility requirements;

    • The facilities are installed and can be removed without damaging historic materials; and

    • The depth and width of any proposed ground disturbance does not exceed that of any previous ground disturbance.

Collocation of Wireless Antennas on Utility Structures in or Near Historic Districts

A small antenna may be mounted on a utility structure (including utility poles or electric transmission towers, but not light poles, lamp posts, or other structures whose primary purpose is to provide public lighting) that is in active use by a utility company where the utility structure is either a historic property, located on a historic property, or located in or within 250 feet of the boundary of a historic district without undergoing the historic review process if:

    • The utility pole or electric transmission tower is not located on a designated National Historic Landmark;

    • The antenna is no more than three cubic feet in volume, with a cumulative limit of 6 cubic feet if there is more than one antenna/antenna enclosure on the structure;

    • The wireless equipment associated with the antenna is no more than 21 cubic feet; and

    • The depth and width of any proposed ground disturbance does not exceed that of any previous ground disturbance.

Collocations on Light Poles in or Near Historic Districts

Proposals to mount a small antenna on a traffic light, light pole, lamp post, or other structure whose primary purpose is to provide public lighting, where the structure is located in or within 250 feet of the boundary of a historic district, may be excluded from historic preservation review only on a case-by-case basis under the following procedures:

    • The lighting structure may not be a historic property or considered a contributing or compatible element to the historic district;

    • The collocation must meet the four criteria listed above for collocations on utility structures in historic districts;

    • The applicant must submit a written request to the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) for concurrence that the structure is not a contributing or compatible element to the historic district; and

    • The SHPO will have 30 days to review the request.

Replacement of Existing Facilities in or Near Historic Districts

An existing antenna that is mounted (1) on a building or non-tower structure or in the interior of a building that is a historic property; (2) in or within 250 feet of the boundary of a historic district; or (3) located on or inside a building or non-tower structure that is over 45 years of age, regardless of visibility may be replaced without undergoing the historic review process if:

    • The antenna being replaced has already undergone historic review or such review was not required at the time the antenna was installed;

    • The replacement facility does not exceed the greater of (a) the size of the existing antenna and associated equipment, or (b) three cubic feet in volume, with a limit of 6 cubic feet if there is more than one antenna on the structure, plus 21 cubic feet for the associated wireless equipment;

    • The replacement facilities are installed and can be removed without damaging     historic materials; and

    • The depth and width of any proposed ground disturbance does not exceed that of any previous ground disturbance.

Exceptions to the Exclusions from Historical Review

It is important to note that, even if a proposed collocation meets the applicable criteria discussed above, it will not be eligible for an exclusion from the FCC’s historical review process if the FCC has received a complaint from a member of the public, a Tribal Nation, a SHPO, or the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that the collocation has an adverse effect on one or more historic properties.  In addition, please note that these exclusions apply only to the FCC’s historical review process and do not apply to or limit any applicable State or local historic preservation requirements, nor do they apply on Tribal lands or limit the Tribal consultation process. 

The full text of the First Amendment to the National Programmatic Agreement for the Collocation of Wireless Antennas is available here http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2016/db0808/DA-16-900A2.pdf