Local governments hit FCC with three 5G lawsuits

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Two dozen cities and counties filed lawsuits last week against the Federal Communications Commission over recently enacted rules governing the implementation of 5G wireless equipment. In filing their suits, the local governments made good on threats to challenge regulations that restrict how much phone companies have to pay to install new antennas on public property, as well as how much time municipal authorities have to review applications to deploy the devices.

The 24 governments taking legal action filed three separate suits, but each case makes the same basic argument against the FCC’s order on 5G rollout. The governments argue that the order kneecaps their ability to manage how phone companies use public property.

San Jose is the lead plaintiff in one of the new cases filed last week, joined by the city and county of Los Angeles; Las Vegas; Portland, Oregon; and 16 other cities in California, Washington and Arizona. The other suits were brought by Seattle, joined by surrounding King County and neighboring Tacoma, Washington, and Huntington Beach, California.

Under its Sept. 26 decision, which was approved on a 3-1 vote, the commission ruled that phone companies can be charged no more than $270 to install each small-cell antenna, a device about the size of a pizza box that transmit 5G wireless signals. It also imposed a 60-day limit on how long municipalities have to approve or deny a company’s application to install an antenna.

Previously, ordinances governing wireless infrastructure varied by the city or state, with local governments charging an average of $500 per antenna and giving themselves much longer windows to review installation requests. Telecommunications firms are now racing to install 5G antennas, which are claimed to handle signals 100 times faster than the wireless industry’s current 4G LTE standards. Verizon said it activated its first four networks earlier this month in four U.S. cities, while AT&T has said it will launch 5G networks in 12 cities before the end of the year.

But the 5G bandwidth requires a much denser network of antennas and relays than previous generations of wireless technology, which has led many cities to create regulations about installing the equipment on publicly owned utility poles or carriers building new structures to support the antennas. In approving the new federal regulation, which is scheduled to take effect next January, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lobbyist, accused cities of wanting to “continue extracting as much money as possible in fees from the private sector.”

The FCC’s ruling was immediately blasted by mayors and city officials from across the United States, who objected that it would force municipalities to subsidize the phone industry at the expense of local budgets.

“Rather than encouraging balanced, common-sense recommendations that advance equitable broadband infrastructure deployment, the FCC’s move will force taxpayers to subsidize industry access to publicly owned infrastructure — with no obligation to serve the 35 million Americans in low-income and rural communities who remain on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide,'” San Jose, California Mayor Sam Liccardo said at the time.

All three cases were filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The FCC has not yet responded to any of suits, which were first reported by Bloomberg BNA .

Other local governments may file additional claims or join one the three existing suits. A spokesperson for New York City Chief Information Officer Samir Saini, who published a lengthy Medium post saying that cities are “ready to defend” their right to regulate wireless equipment, told StateScoop this month the city is “reviewing all its legal options.”

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5G, Broadband/Connectivity, FCC, Tech News
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