FCC Expands Wireless Providers’ Authority to Change Existing Telecommunications Sites

November 9, 2020

The new order broadens the types of requests for wireless modifications that cities cannot deny.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an order on Oct. 27 amending its rules defining the meaning of “substantial change” for certain existing wireless facilities.

The order clarifies what constitutes the “site” of a wireless tower, and broadens the types of improvements a wireless provider may construct and deploy in existing site modifications that a city cannot deny.

According to the FCC, the purpose of the change is to streamline the state and local government review process to facilitate the deployment of 5G wireless technology.

Learn more about the order

Expansion of modifications cities cannot deny

Section 6409(a) of the 2012 Spectrum Act regulates the placement or modification of wireless facilities on an existing wireless tower or base station. It provides that state and local governments may not deny certain requests to modify existing wireless structures that do not substantially change the physical dimensions of the structures.

The new order amends rules interpreting section 6409(a) to allow excavation and deployments of transmission equipment within 30 feet of an existing site to be included in modification requests that cities may not deny.

Improvements made under 6409(a) are limited to being placed within the current boundaries of a site that was previously approved by a city and excludes utility easements related to the site. If the city finds that a request does not meet the requirements of 6409(a), it must deny the request within 60 days, or the permit is deemed granted.

What the order applies to

The FCC order applies only to the deployment of transmission equipment and not new towers. In addition, the order does not apply to towers located within the right of way. Finally, the order maintains a city’s ability to enforce existing setback requirements and enforce generally applicable health and safety requirements.

The order ultimately allows wireless companies to excavate and install additional equipment without additional conditions placed by a city. Any requests received by a city that meet the 6409(a) eligible facilities requirements must be approved within 60 days.

Cities are encouraged to look at their code and design standards and consider if any updates are warranted to protect against future Section 6409(a) requests.

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