As I mentioned a couple of days ago, there is more concentration than usual these days on building out broadband infrastructure with tomorrow’s opening meeting of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) and the announcement of the $1.04 billion Verizon/Corning fiber purchase deal. The theme continued this morning as the FCC passed three measures aimed at reducing any regulatory barriers – local, state or federal – that may still prevent faster construction.
First, the Commission unanimously adopted an Order on Reconsideration that rural telecommunications groups have been advocating in recent weeks. Last year’s order creating a standalone broadband mechanism for rate-of-return telcos set a limit on how much reimbursement rural telcos could get on broadband construction capital expenses through the Connect America Fund’s (CAF) High-Cost Fund. Exceeding the limit could disqualify a carrier from any support. Today’s order allows telcos to pay some of the excess capital expense to maintain CAF support.
“Correcting the flaw in the capital investment limit for smaller rural operators is significant in removing a disincentive to broadband investment and allowing greater flexibility for smaller companies to design their networks to reach more consumers,” said Michael Romano, NTCA Senior VP, Industry Affairs and Business Development, following today’s meeting.
Among other actions, the Commission approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Notice of (NOI) Inquiry to explore the potential regulatory barriers to wireline broadband deployment. Specifically, the Commission will examine ways that broadband providers can work more smoothly with local authorities and utilities to share pole space for Internet services. The FCC also will look for ways to streamline local telephone companies’ retirement of copper communications lines as they deploy fiber replacements. Current rules require an extensive approval process before copper retirement.
Finally, the Commission initiated a similar NPRM and NOI to hasten wireless infrastructure construction. Wireless network construction sometimes suffers from delays from local zoning authorities considering tower and cell site placement applications. The FCC is proposing a rule that applications be “deemed granted” after unreasonable delays.
Such disputes between wireless carriers and local authorities could increase as the industry builds out 5G networks and the Internet of Things. Such networks might require less tower construction, but more microcell sites in several locations.