A day before the Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on an order that would streamline the federal review process for next-generation 5G wireless infrastructure projects, a congresswoman sent a letter to the agency asking it to reconsider.
In a March 21 letter addressed specifically to Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said that the commissioner's proposed order would "eviscerate the critical environmental and transparency protections" created by the National Environmental Policy Act. Specifically, the order focuses on wireless infrastructure deployments that are subject to review under the National Historic Preservation Act and National Environmental Policy Act, two U.S. laws designed to preserve historical and archaeological sites, as well as the environment.
The FCC's order would exempt small wireless facilities, or small cells, from the environmental and historic review procedures required under the two laws. Small cells are cellular base stations and antennas that are frequently the size of pizza boxes, though the size of these cells can vary greatly. Carr, who has championed the order in recent weeks, has noted that the legal requirements under the NHPA and NEPA were originally designed for large, macrocell towers and that the effect of the laws on small cells has been to unnecessarily delay deployment.
But Dingell said the FCC's order misunderstands the NEPA and its purpose. "NEPA requires the government to consider the environmental impact of its actions and encourage public participation in its decision-making process," she said, noting that the law gives citizens a critical opportunity to voice their concerns about a federal project's impact on their community. Citing testimony from a January hearing, Dingell said the NEPA process has "saved money, time, lives, historical sites, endangered species, and public lands while encouraging compromise and resulting in better projects with more public support."
Carr, meanwhile, has said that by exempting small cells from NEPA and NHPA from review, the commission stands to cut the regulatory costs of deployment by 80% and trim months off deployment timelines.
The FCC is set to vote on the proposed order at its March 22 meetings.