Seattle to Lead Cities’ Fight Against FCC’s 5G Rollout Order

Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan and city attorney Pete Holmes plan to sue the FCC over its decision to preempt local rules on 5G deployment — and will also coordinate with other cities on that lawsuit. The Portland City Council voted on Tuesday to approve the lawsuit, reported The Oregonian, which added that there is a growing list of cities preparing to join the fight. Although most of those cities are on the West Coast, others including New York City, Boston and rural areas have also been vocal against the FCC’s move.

Ars Technica reports that, “the FCC says its order will save carriers $2 billion, less than one percent of the estimated $275 billion it will take to deploy 5G across the country.”

The FCC vote, which took place on September 26, will put limits on “the amount that local governments may charge carriers for placing 5G equipment such as small cells on poles, traffic lights, and other government property in public rights-of-way … [and] suggests up-front application fees of $100 for each small cell and annual fees of up to $270 per small cell.”

Cities that want to charge more would have to prove that, “the fees are a reasonable approximation of all costs and ‘non-discriminatory’,” and would face lawsuits from carriers otherwise. The Oregonian says Portland “typically charges $3,000 per year,” but cities can also “charge different rates in different areas to encourage deployment.” According to Bloomberg, New York City charges “as little as $148 per month in underserved areas and $5,100 in parts of Manhattan.”

With the FCC order, cities and towns are required to act on carrier applications within 60 or 90 days, and puts limits on aesthetic requirements. “The scope of this overreach is significant,” said Durkan and Holmes. “It impedes local authority to serve as trustees of public property and to fulfill cities’ public health and safety responsibilities while establishing unworkable standards. This will increase costs and impose an unreasonable burden on local governments.”

FCC chair Ajit Pai has countered that cities and towns are simply “extracting as much money as possible in fees from the private sector and forcing companies to navigate a maze of regulatory hurdles in order to deploy wireless infrastructure.” He claims cutting fees in the big cities will encourage carriers to deploy 5G in rural areas, but “the FCC order doesn’t require carriers to build in areas where they wouldn’t have done so anyway.”

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel “questioned the FCC’s authority to override local rules in this case.”