Five ways to speed up wireless broadband deployment for all Americans and help preserve the heritage of tribal nations

Via CTIA Resource Library

Jun 19, 2017

June 16, 2017

By: Brian Josef

More than ever, Americans rely on wireless broadband. That's true whether you're surrounded by skyscrapers or living in America's heartland. And our wireless experience depends on network infrastructure: tall cell towers and—increasingly—smaller antennas typically around the size of a pizza box that are essential for the next-generation of wireless, 5G.

But antiquated procedures and how the FCC has historically administered them are hindering the build-out of wireless networks. That's why yesterday, CTIA and the Wireless Infrastructure Association urged the FCC to make it easier to deploy the key components of modern wireless networks while—and this is key—continuing to protect and preserve sites with religious and cultural significance to Tribal Nations.

Under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), federal agencies like the FCC must determine whether historic sites are present near proposed wireless infrastructure projects and, if so, whether those projects might impact important Tribal sites located on non-Tribal lands.

While the intent of the law is good, the FCC's structuring of the NHPA process has meant long delays and unreasonable costs for the build-out and improvement of wireless networks. New data indicate that Tribal review takes an average of 110 days to complete—with evidence of some reviews taking over 500! And in just the last two years, application fees jumped by 30 percent and the average collocation fee increased 50 percent.

Despite these lengthy and increasingly costly reviews, these infrastructure projects are extremely unlikely to impact historic or culturally significant sites. In fact, just one-third of one percent—yes, that's 0.33%—of Tribal reviews have found an adverse impact on these properties.

Thousands of wireless projects have already been impacted by the inefficiencies in the FCC's well-intentioned administration of the Tribal review process, and with hundreds of thousands of small cells projected to be needed in the near future, we encourage the FCC to update its procedures now. To that end, CTIA and WIA have proposed five ways to modernize the NHPA process so we can meet Americans' demand for even better wireless service while preserving culturally significant properties of importance to Tribal Nations:

  1. Clarify the fee structure: The FCC should set guidelines around the use of and fees associated with consulting services versus professional contracting services in NHPA reviews.
  2. Set standard paperwork processes: The FCC should clarify that the agency-required paperwork provided to Tribes—which contains information and details about a proposed site—should suffice for NHPA reviews in the absence of a written explanation on why additional information may be necessary.
  3. Create a timeline for initial reviews: The FCC should limit NHPA reviews to 30 days, and in the absence of a Tribal response at that point, deem the consultation process complete.
  4. Modernize a key FCC database: The FCC's Tower Construction Notification System is full of valuable information for applicants and Tribes alike. The FCC should update this database to improve recordkeeping and help all parties more efficiently navigate the NHPA review process.
  5. Set guideposts for site monitoring: The FCC should limit NHPA-related site monitoring to instances where there is a probability that a historic, religious, or culturally significant site may be identified, and Tribes should be encouraged to use a single monitor when possible to share information. Preserving Tribal Nations' heritage is a goal we all share, and the NHPA plays a key role in protecting historical, religious, and culturally significant properties. We're seeking FCC action to bring clarity to, and address the efficiency and effectiveness of, the current Tribal consultation review process. Our recommendations to modernize the NHPA review process will enable better and faster wireless broadband deployment while protecting these important areas—for Tribal Nations and all Americans.
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