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Friday, May 24, 2013

Broadband Deployment: Legal Issues for the Siting of Wireless Communications Facilities and Amendments to the Pole Attachment Rule

Kathleen Ann Ruane
Legislative Attorney

One of the primary tasks of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is to encourage the deployment of broadband throughout the United States. Broadband technology is now available over a wide array of delivery systems including cable, wireless, telephone, and fiber optic networks. The FCC moved, in recent years, to ease some of the regulatory burdens inherent in erecting new broadband facilities within the current legal framework. Congress has also taken steps to encourage the deployment of wireless facilities. This report will discuss some of the important legal developments related to broadband deployment.

The siting of wireless communications facilities has been a topic of controversy in communities all over the United States. Telecommunications carriers need to place towers in areas where coverage is insufficient or lacking to provide better service to consumers, while local governing boards and community groups often oppose the siting of towers in residential neighborhoods and scenic areas. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 governs federal, state, and local regulation of the siting of communications towers by placing certain limitations on local zoning authority without totally preempting state and local law. This report provides an overview of the federal, state, and local laws governing the siting of wireless communications facilities, including recent amendments to federal law governing tower siting contained in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.

This report will also discuss the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s or Commission’s) recent actions related to streamlining the tower siting application process at the state and local level. As corporations that won recent spectrum auctions begin to build out new facilities, new towers may need to be constructed. These industry participants expressed concern to the Commission over the length of time frequently taken for action on tower siting applications. On November 18, 2009, the FCC issued a declaratory ruling to clarify certain portions of Section 332 of the Communications Act. This decision was intended to streamline the tower siting application process across the country.

The FCC has also amended regulations for pole attachments to currently existing poles owned by utilities. The amendments were intended to increase the number of pole attachments, thereby increasing broadband availability. The utility companies challenged the FCC’s interpretation of the statute granting it the authority to regulate pole attachments. The D.C. Circuit upheld the FCC’s rules.

Date of Report: April 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 13
Order Number: RS20783
Price: $29.95

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