FCC Puts Time Limit on Review of Cell Sites

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday set limits on how long state and local governments can take to review proposals for cellular base stations.

Applications for collocation of new wireless facilities at existing sites will have to be approved or rejected within 90 days, and all other applications will have to be reviewed within 150 days, the agency said in a declaratory ruling that has been called the "shot-clock" rule. The new regulations will go into effect as soon as the FCC releases them, which it expects to do on Wednesday.

"This action will assist in speeding the deployment of next generation wireless networks while respecting the legitimate concerns of local authorities and preserving local control over zoning and land use policies," the FCC said in a press release.

Delays in local approval of cellular facilities have been a common complaint of mobile operators. An AT&T executive recently cited regulatory approvals as one of the issues that has held up improvements in the carrier's much-criticized 3G coverage in cities such as San Francisco and New York.

At a hearing Wednesday at which it also examined barriers to broadband adoption, the FCC found that while most state and local regulators are timely in reviewing cell-site applications, in many cases there are unnecessary delays. Congress requires that those authorities act "within a reasonable period of time," the FCC said in a statement.

If a government body fails to act on a cell-site proposal within the specified time, the applicant can file a claim for relief in court within 30 days of the failure to act, the FCC said.

Also on Wednesday, the FCC ruled it is illegal for a state or local government to turn down an application for a wireless site because service is already available from another carrier. However, rejecting a request from the wireless trade association CTIA, the agency ruled that state and local governments can require a waiver or variance for every proposed wireless facility siting.

CTIA and AT&T both issued statements on Wednesday applauding the shot-clock decision.

"The Commission's action today, while not giving the industry all that was requested, provides a path to resolve zoning issues related to siting of towers much faster than the process that exists today," AT&T wrote.

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