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Attempt to Modernize Antenna Siting Rules Could Benefit Rural 5G

Randy Sukow Apr 12, 2019

New categories of small cells and other wireless infrastructure will proliferate across the country as 5G wireless networks grow. The FCC is proposing to simply the regulatory process for these devices, including  in rural areas, by modernizing its rules for over-the-air-reception devices (OTARD).

“We simply cannot accept unnecessary and indefensible barriers to infrastructure deployment, especially when so many Americans are without adequate service options and need us to act quickly,” said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said during this morning’s monthly FCC agenda meeting.

The FCC’s current OTARD rules limit the ability of local governments and community associations to restrict consumers from installing satellite dishes and wireless antennas on their homes. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking the Commission unanimously adopted today would expand the rules to protect “hub and relay antennas,” which can transmit signals to and receive signals from multiple sites. Expanding the rules to cover such devices could “spur investment in and deployment of needed infrastructure,” according to a draft of the NPRM.

The document particularly asks how rural wireless internet providers and small businesses could benefit by widening the number of small cell siting opportunities. The Commission cites the Wireless ISP Association, which claimed “extension of OTARD protections to ‘hub sites’ is critically important for rural areas where heavy foliage and undulating terrain can make deployment more difficult.”

Commissioner Brendan Carr said that he has visited WISPs that specialize in providing service to hard-to-reach places. “WISPs I’ve visited have attached antennas to barns and on top of water towers. Two weeks ago, in Ohio, I joined a WISP on top of a grain elevator they’re using to beam broadband for miles around,” he said. “Finding space on which to attach their equipment is one of the greatest challenges a WISP faces. The challenge can be compounded by rules that restrict placement, even when property owners want the equipment in service there.”

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