Appeals court halts FCC red-tape cutting quest

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has put the brakes on FCC attempts to reduce bureaucracy surrounding small cell deployment in the US.

In March last year, the FCC introduced new rules which would remove certain approvals required for the deployment of small cells. In short, telcos would no-longer have to seek review from the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) prior to deployment.

In response to the new rules, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, the Blackfeet Tribe, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) objected, suggesting the FCC should not be allowed to remove the approvals with such ease and with a lack of consultation.

In this case, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has agreed. Certain aspects of the order have been upheld, however, the removal of this red-tape has been condemned by the Federal Judges.

“We grant in part the petitions for review because the Order does not justify the Commission’s determination that it was not in the public interest to require review of small cell deployments,” the courts opinion states.

“In particular, the Commission failed to justify its confidence that small cell deployments pose little to no cognizable religious, cultural, or environmental risk, particularly given the vast number of proposed deployments and the reality that the Order will principally affect small cells that require new construction.”

For the FCC, this is a loss, despite a positive statement from Commissioner Brenden Carr.

“I am pleased that the court upheld key provisions of last March’s infrastructure decision,” said Carr. “Most importantly, the court affirmed our decision that parties cannot demand upfront fees before reviewing any cell sites, large or small.

“We are reviewing the portion of last March’s decision that the DC Circuit did not affirm and look forward to next steps, as appropriate.”

This might sound positive but let’s not forget the objective of the FCC in introducing these new rules; speed-up deployment of 4G and 5G infrastructure in regions which might fall into the digital divide.

As we move forward into the 5G era, new opportunities are going to emerge for all economies around the world. The financial benefits are constantly being thrust into our face by telco lobbyists, however for these economic surges to be realised the right infrastructure needs to be in place.

This is where the FCC plays the most significant role. Pai has taken a machete to red-tape in recent years to offer more freedoms to the telco and media industry on the whole, and this was another step in that direction. Removing certain tick boxes would help the telcos roll-out new networks faster, though it seems it has over-stepped its mark in this instance.