FCC Decision on 5G Wireless Raises Flags for Local Planning

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted September 26 on an order to streamline the processes required to deploy small cell wireless facilities in communities. APA has consistently opposed and will continue to oppose the preemption of local control, including efforts that pertain to the deployment of 5G technology.

Two-Part Ruling

The FCC presented the decision in two parts, the first of which is a Declaratory Ruling regulating the use of local fees as they relate to authorizing the deployment of 5G. This declaratory ruling limits the amount of money cities can charge for the deployment of small cells.

Part two of the decision is described as the Third Report & Order in the Wireless Infrastructure and amends the "shot clock," limiting the response time of cities to process applications for small cell. Such limitations minimize cities' abilities to properly determine how the infrastructure is best suited for the community.

The decision will go into effect following its publication in the federal register. As the National Association of Counties (NACo) notes, once in effect localities would be subject to "enforcement action" if they are deemed to not be cooperating with FCC's decision.


Efforts to streamline this process are commonly brought on by the misconception that cities are opposed to and will actively prevent the implementation of 5G infrastructure. In a joint statement from NACo and the National League of Cities (NLC), the organizations expressed the commitment of cities and counties to deploying this rapidly evolving technology, but in a way that does not preempt local control:

"Cities and counties are strongly committed to the timely and successful deployment of 5G facilities and services throughout the nation, just as we led and supported public and private partnerships that resulted in the successful introduction and expansion of 4G infrastructure and services. [Wednesday's] vote, however, overlooks significant concerns from the nation's cities and counties. Over 100 local governments from 22 states filed comments in opposition to the proposed ruling during the FCC's comment period."

NLC also shared "Five Takeaways for Cities from the FCC's Small Cell Preemption Order" as cities begin to unravel what this will mean for their communities. While supporters of the FCC's recent decision argue that it will increase 5G access for all, there are no specific provisions in the decision that require the deployment in an equitable manner. Rather, it limits the authority of localities to move forward with this technology in a way that best suits their communities.

Next Century Cities issued a summary of the order, followed by "Important Tips and Action Steps."

Local preemption is a recurring challenge for planners. The deployment of 5G technology is no exception and will need to be consistently elevated among peers and colleagues. APA is collaborating with partner organizations to address a path forward. Experts, local officials, and organizations that engage in state and local policy are evaluating the legal and legislative options, at various levels of government, to adequately equip communities to respond.

Top image: Federal Communications Commission building. U.S. government photo.

About the Author
Catherine Hinshaw is APA's state government affairs associate.

October 2, 2018

By Catherine Hinshaw