Court rules in favor of FCC in small cell case

In October 2018 a large group of U.S. cities and counties filed suit against the FCC objecting to its rules designed to speed up the deployment of small cells for the rollout of 5G. But yesterday, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued its decision upholding the vast majority of the FCC’s wireless infrastructure orders.

The lawsuit filed by the municipalities objected to the FCC's orders that were issued in August and September of 2018. The orders require municipalities to approve small cell placements within a fairly short time frame. And they also limit the amount of money cities can charge for land rental.

The city leaders said the FCC’s rules amounted to a land grab. And they complained that the big telecoms are private entities focused on profit, and yet they want all the benefits of being treated like a public utility without any of the obligations to provide reasonably-priced service for all. Others complained bitterly about the uglification of their communities from the proliferation of small cells on every other block.

RELATED: Mayors who are suing the FCC call its small cell rules a ‘land-grab’

However, the 9th Circuit mostly ruled in favor of the FCC, which wasn’t entirely surprising given that courts have historically tended to favor the FCC.

The one exception in the court’s ruling was the provision dealing with the authority of local governments in the area of aesthetic regulations. The court vacated that provision and remanded it back to the FCC.

Wireless industry celebrates

The wireless industry cheered the court’s decision because the FCC’s rules help them cut through a lot of local red tape, which can bog down the deployment of small cells.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “The court rightly affirmed the FCC’s efforts to ensure that infrastructure deployment critical to 5G is not impeded by exorbitant fees imposed by state and local governments, undue delays in local permitting and unreasonable barriers to pole access.”

CCA President and CEO Steven Berry said, “Today’s Ninth Circuit decision is a win for the wireless industry, and more importantly, a win for consumers, who will benefit from more streamlined and efficient deployment of 5G networks. Today’s opinion correctly recognizes that 5G networks will require denser architecture to deliver the services that consumers demand and need. CCA has long supported a more efficient and streamlined approach to wireless infrastructure deployment.” 

CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said, “The court got it right, correctly affirming the FCC’s authority to establish reasonable guardrails to guide both the wireless industry and local governments in their shared goals of speeding the deployment of next-generation wireless networks and maintaining U.S. leadership in the emerging 5G economy.”