FCC requires faster cell tower siting approval
Cities and counties may have to speed up their review of cell tower applications to meet deadlines imposed in a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling last fall. Groups representing local governments say the deadlines could make it difficult to implement review processes and public comment periods.
Following a 2008 request by Washington-based CITA, a wireless providers industry group, the FCC ruled that state and local land-use authorities must act on applications for new cell towers within 150 days or face potential court action. In its filings with the FCC, CITA stated that nearly one in four cell tower applications have been pending for a year or more nationwide. The deadline for co-location of new wireless infrastructure is 90 days.
Arlington, Texas, has appealed the ruling in federal court, arguing the FCC overstepped its authority in an area of the law left to state and local governments. City Attorney Jay Doegey says that Arlington took an average of 18 days to process recent co-locations, and that the last new cell tower review took about 80 days. While those numbers are well within the deadline, Doegey says cities should be able to control the timeline, given the inherently local nature of land-use decisions. “There still may be situations that require more time,” he says.
The Washington-based National Association of Counties (NACo) and the U.S. Conference of Mayors asked the FCC to reconsider the length of time local governments have to determine if applications are complete, set at 30 days in the new ruling. “We have no control over whether the wireless companies provide us complete data and the complete applications within that 30 days,” says NACo deputy legislative director Jeffrey Arnold.
In late January, the FCC denied the request to allow more time. The decision states that the “shot clock” could be stopped to gather more information after 30 days with the consent of both the applicant and the municipality, and that municipalities had the right to argue in court that meeting the broader review deadline was unreasonable if the application was incomplete.
Peter Barnes is a Houston-based freelance writer.