January 28, 2013, 10:38 AM — The Federal Communications Commission announced plans Friday to help streamline wireless broadband buildout in the U.S., including clarification of a provision requiring local review of modifications to cell towers.
Other initiatives include launching an FCC review of ways to expedite the placement of temporary cell towers such as Cells on Wheels (COWs) that can be used during special events such as the presidential inauguration, where thousands of cell-phone users in a crowded area can sap wireless capacity.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also said there will be further FCC actions in 2013 to streamline the deployment of small cells and distributed antenna systems that can boost wireless connections in areas between larger cell towers or in neighborhoods where tall buildings block wireless connections.
Part of the purpose of the FCC's initiatives is to give more certainty and flexibility to the wireless industry, which has invested more than $25 billion each year in mobile infrastructure, Genachowski said in a statement.
"Just as is the case for our nation's roads and bridges, we must continue to invest in improvements in cell towers and transmission equipment in order to ensure ubiquitous, high-speed Internet for all Americans," he said.
He said FCC policies must adapt to technological advances that can help the wireless build-out. These advances include small cells, a catch-all term for a range of smaller antennas that can be attached to light poles and buildings to supplement larger antennas on towers, which are expensive to build and can raise concerns from nearby residents and businesses.
As part of the announcement, the FCC clarified a technical provision in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 that called for review by local governments and planning agencies of modifications to existing cell towers and base stations (usually, the equipment at the base of the towers).
The FCC didn't specify the terms of the clarification it made but said the change would accelerate deployment of high-speed mobile broadband. Local review processes for cell towers and related infrastructure can take months or years, and shortening that period has been a priority at the FCC.
Fridays's announcement comes four days after President Obama's inaugural address, which mentioned the need for improved roads and networks that will bring new jobs and businesses to the U.S.