FCC Acts on CTIA
"Shot Clock" Petition
On November 18, FCC granted in part the CTIA July 11, 2008 petition on setting "shot clock"-like deadlines for local zoning reviews of cell tower zoning requests. The FCC said:
On the first issue, we conclude that we should define what constitutes a presumptively “reasonable period of time” beyond which inaction on a personal wireless service facility siting application will be deemed a “failure to act.” We then determine that in the event a State or local government fails to act within the appropriate time period, the applicant is entitled to bring an action in court under Section 332(c)(7)(B)(v). At that point, the State or local government will have the opportunity to present to the court arguments to show that additional time would be reasonable, given the nature and scope of the siting application at issue. We next conclude that the record supports setting the time limits at 90 days for State and local governments to process collocation applications, and 150 days for them to process applications other than collocations. On the second issue raised by the Petition, we find that it is a violation of Section 332(c)(7)(B)(i)(II) for a State or local government to deny a personal wireless service facility siting application solely because that service is available from another provider. On the third issue, because the Petitioner has not presented us with any evidence of a specific controversy, we deny its request that we find that a State or local regulation that explicitly or effectively requires a variance or waiver for every wireless facility siting violates Section 253(a).
CTIA had asked for limits of 45 days and 75 days, but FCC compromised on 90/150, no doubt due to pressure from local governments.
But the root cause of much of this problem is the design of most suburban cellular towers. The industry does know how to build towers that fit into their environment when forced to do so, but since the approaches they use are very expensive they generally are content to use towers that "look like they were designed by engineers". Thus the local government resistance should not be a big surprise. There is only so far that this "uglification" of suburbia can continue without a massive backlash.
In the next decade, the total requirement for suburban antennas for all wireless systems - not just CTIA members - will probably be 25 transmit/receiver systems (each equivalent to one tower level of the picture at left) per square mile. I doubt that this can be achieved with the current design concepts in suburbia with any harmony with neighbors. ( This is a uniquely suburban issue. In urban areas, it is easier to hide antennas on buildings and in rural areas there are few neighbors to complain.)
It is time for the various sectors of the wireless industry to look at the big picture and start thinking of new concepts for this type of system as the basic design concept. Note that at an FCC hearing this summer, Jake MacLeod of Bechtel also stated that we have reached the end of the line for current design concepts.
I hope that FCC will take a leadership role in this issue in bringing various industry sectors (CMRS, FWA, Part 90, Part 101) together to discuss the need for new design approaches that both provide adequate radio illumination of suburbia and are compatible with their environment.