In figuring out what should be the government’s spectrum policy for the future, one solution has become a no-brainer to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in both chambers: make it easier for phone companies to site wireless towers and antennae on federal land and government buildings.
When the FCC wraps up the broadcast incentive auction, which is planned for next March, there would be no new spectrum in the pipeline to meet thee demand for mobile services.
In a hearing Wednesday, several members of the Senate commerce committee complained that it takes too damn long to get requests through the federal bureaucracy.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) also complained that he ran into a wireless hole in Rock Creek Parkway, which runs through a National Park Service preserve. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) expressed his frustration, noting that federal lands make up about 85 percent of his state.
“We should make siting on federal lands a priority,” Heller said.
Overall, the government owns 30 percent of the land in the U.S. — that’s a lot of footprint for the wireless business. Because most of the federal land is in rural territory, getting those clearances is even more important to bring wireless access to rural Americans.
“It literally takes years. There are some stories of five years, with multiple reviews and studies. It’s extremely costly,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of CTIA—The Wireless Association and a former FCC commissioner. “The company pays for it, but it’s the consumer that ultimately pays the cost.”
FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel agreed that it was important to make sure that the management of federal lands accelerates, rather than impedes, locating cell towers on federal property.
The House communications and technology subcommittee a week ago came to the same conclusion, that it was time to move the government bureaucracy off the dime.
“Despite repeated calls to facilitate access to federal lands and buildings, to simplify and expedite access to utility poles, and improve the process for tower and cell siting, these still present hurdles to efficient investment and deployment,” said subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.)
Congress directed the General Services Administration three years ago to develop a plan to make it easier to place wireless towers and antennae on government property and federal governments.
“This is a statutory requirement they’ve largely failed to meet in three years. We’ll make sure they do better than that,” Walden said.