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FCC Will Seek Comment on Wireless Facility Environmental and Historic Review, by Kevin M. Cookler and David D. Rines

April 5, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that, among other things, seeks comment on revising its wireless tower siting rules and procedures.  This draft NPRM is tentatively scheduled to be formally adopted at the FCC’s upcoming Commission Meeting on April 20, 2017. 

In this proceeding, the FCC is undertaking a comprehensive review of its environmental review and historic preservation rules and procedures for wireless infrastructure deployment.  The FCC seeks concrete and specific information regarding the costs and delays associated with these reviews and the impact on facilities deployment and the provision of service.  If adopted, the FCC’s proposals could significantly reduce the costs of deployment and could eliminate lengthy and unnecessary delays, particularly with the Tribal Nation component of the historic review process. 

In brief, the FCC requests comments on the issues described below.

Historic and Environmental Review Process

      • Tribal fees:  The amounts of fees charged by Tribal Nations, under what circumstances Tribal Nations may charge fees, and whether the FCC should take action to limit such charges.
      • Tribal Areas of Interest:  What actions, if any, the FCC can take to mitigate the burden imposed on tower owners and licensees caused by having to notify and consult with Tribal Nations that have expressed an interest in large areas of the country.
      • Timelines:  What measures, if any, the FCC should take to further speed the SHPO and Tribal Nation review process. 
      • Other Process Reforms:  Any other changes the FCC should consider to improve the historic review and environmental review process and reduce unnecessary burdens.

New Historic Review Exclusions

The FCC seeks comment on whether to expand the categories of wireless infrastructure deployments that are exempt from historic review to include the following:

      • Pole Replacements: Replacement of poles, regardless of whether a pole is located in a historic district, including pole replacements within rights-of-way and replacements for poles that were built for a purpose other than supporting antennas.
      • Rights-of-Way:  Construction or collocation of communications infrastructure in a transportation right-of-way; or construction of a wireless facility in a utility or communications right-of-way even if it is located on a historic property.
      • Collocations:  Collocations on buildings and other non-tower structures located up to 50 feet from the boundary of a historic district (as opposed to current 250 feet buffer rule); or collocations that have already received local government approval.

The FCC also invites comment on whether it should revisit its previous determinations that all FCC licenses – including geographic area licenses that do not require construction permits – and Antenna Structure Registrations (ASRs) are considered “federal undertakings” that trigger environmental and historic review.  Finally, the FCC requests comment on how to streamline collocations on “twilight towers” – communications towers that were built between 2001 and 2005 that did not complete the historic review process.     

The complete text of the FCC’s draft NPRM is available at http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2017/db0330/DOC-344160A1.pdf