FCC votes to ease regulations on 5G wireless technology rollout

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to ease up on certain regulatory requirements, including historic and environmental preservation reviews, in order to streamline the rollout of 5G wireless technology across the country.

In a vote of 3-to-2, split along party lines, Republicans led the decision that federal reviews would not be necessary when wireless carriers installed small cell radio deployments, like those that support 5G—the faster and more responsive wireless technology.

Before now, even small cell installations required review under the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act. 

“By cutting unnecessary red tape, we’ll make it substantially easier for carriers to build next-generation wireless networks throughout the United States,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement on the vote, which does not affect reviews from towns and cities.

“That means faster and more reliable wireless services for American consumers and businesses. That means more wireless innovation, such as novel applications based on the Internet of Things. And ultimately, that means American leadership in 5G.”

Big carrier corporations, like Verizon and AT&T, voiced support ahead of the vote for the relaxation of the rules, which they argued were dated and “designed decades ago for 200-foot cell towers.” The deployments for 5G cell site gear is much smaller and can be quickly fitted to utility poles. This new technology shouldn’t be subject to the same regulation procedures, they argued.

Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr led the drive with regard to the rule change. He claimed that reviews, anticipating the ramped up 5G deployment, could cost providers up to $241 million.

Democratic lawmakers, however, had dissented and were concerned that the move would be challenged in court for not consulting tribal communities—a point raised by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) in a letter ahead of the vote.

“It runs roughshod over the rights of our tribal communities and gives short shrift to our most basic environmental and historic preservation values,” Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said. “What we have here will not help us lead—or even be 5G ready. Our work deserves a delay so we can fix these deficiencies and move forward together.”

David Gilmour

David Gilmour

David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology.