In the race to deploy next-generation wireless technology, called 5G, the wireless industry has denigrated local government and urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to invade our authority over local zoning and permitting. Without a forceful response, the FCC majority seems poised to acquiesce to industry demands. NACo and other local government associations are fighting back and have organized a sign-on letter to defend local government rights. For the following reasons, I urge all county leaders to join us.
5G technology promises ultra-fast high-capacity wireless connections. 5G will bring the next generation of speed to all of our devices, for whatever we want to do with them. But here is the catch: previous generations of wireless technology largely relied on wireless antennas being placed on relatively few large towers, but 5G will be supported by hundreds of “small cell” deployments deep into residential neighborhoods and urban centers.
Preparing the way for 5G and related technologies in all parts of the United States is and should be a national priority. Counties welcome these advancements and are prepared to work as partners with industry and all stakeholders to accelerate 5G deployment into our communities. Indeed, counties have a long track record of collaborating successfully with the industry to meet our common connectivity goals.
The problem is that the wireless industry, with the tacit blessing of the FCC majority, is seeking to avoid oversight and ultimately usurp control over local rights of way, where much of this infrastructure will be placed.
The wireless industry alleges that local governments are erecting insurmountable barriers to deployment and should be preempted by the federal government. This is unfortunate because local governments have been great partners to the industry in the past. While local zoning codes and permit processes do need to be revised for the new infrastructure, there is no need to remove local government from the process. We must be there to negotiate with industry partners to get the best outcome. We have significant concerns about compatibility of equipment — left to its own the industry might take a low road in our right of way — and equity in our diverse communities. Without our voice, the next generation of infrastructure will deepen divides rather than close them.
Unfortunately, the FCC majority seems likely to side with industry’s dubious allegations as indicated by the mission and membership of the recently constituted Broadband Deployment Advisory Council (BDAC). Of the 30 members of the BDAC, only two come from local governments. The rest largely come from industry. While the local government representatives are doing an admirable job, how can such a group possibly produce balanced recommendations on topics like “Model Code for Municipalities” and “Removing State and Local Regulatory Barriers?” Early reports unsurprisingly suggest that the BDAC will recommend further erosion of local government authority. This is why it is so critical for local governments to speak out now.
Our message is clear. Local governments want to be a partner in successful deployment of next generation infrastructure. We want the latest technology for our communities, but the way it is deployed matters to us. An approach that tries to remove our authority will create tremendous conflict and that will only slow down deployment when the entire goal is to speed it up. The greatest success will come from a regulatory framework that allows some flexibility at the local level and keeps us at the table. Will you join us?
Council Vice President
Montgomery County, Md.