The FCC on Small Cell Antenna Attachments

Complicating the small cell antenna picture, perhaps considerably, is a September 2018 ruling by the FCC that requires any municipality in the country when presented with an application for a small cell mobile antenna installation to approve or disapprove the application within 90 days, and thereafter restrict its fees to $250 per year per antenna. Many municipalities take a long time to approve the installation of an ugly small cell antenna. Many people within communities find them visually objectionable, particularly when right outside the bedroom window. Many people have concerns about the close proximity to radio frequency energy with potential harmful effects, including cancer. What these antennas do to historic districts worries many municipalities that have long standing covenants designed to protect appearances precisely as they were some time ago.

The FCC is clearly trying to hasten upgrades to 4G and the deployment of 5G mobile networks. But some communities have already banned small cell antennas; others have approval processes that last as much as two years; some charge as much as $6000 per antenna per year. As mobile communications have become an integral part of life, for some it seems an integral part of the body, these battles are likely to be lost over time. But they will be fought.

This we be a source of litigation for some time, likely ending in the Supreme Court. It will fascinating to watch this Court, as strong a state’s rights Court as we have had in some time, grapple with a federal ruling many consider a massive overreach of federal authority over matters traditionally left not just to the states, but to communities within a state, but for potentially compelling reasons that have to do with economic development and world leadership in communications. Perhaps.

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