The next wave of cellular technology, known as 5G, will roll out on a timeline and budget determined by the federal government, not local officials, the Federal Communications Commission decided on Wednesday.
The new rules, which were backed by telecom companies but widely opposed by mayors, are meant to speed up the installation of 5G equipment, which delivers wireless internet at speeds far faster than the current standard.
“In the global race to 5G, the stakes are high — it is about economic leadership for the next decade,” Brendan Carr, the commissioner who led the push to pass the rules, said in a statement.
The deployment of 5G requires more infrastructure than existing cellular technology. The signal range for the new transmissions is much shorter, meaning that cell providers must install hundreds of thousands of small stations, if not millions, across neighborhoods. The stations will be affixed an average of a few hundred feet apart, on streetlights, utility poles and other structures. The technology will rely less on the large towers that now send and receive many cell signals.
The new FCC rules set a clock of 60 to 90 days for local officials to approve or reject installation requests from wireless carriers. The agency has said the change will trim $2 billion in unnecessary costs and increase coverage in rural areas.
The FCC also put limits on how much city officials can charge to deploy 5G cells, ordering that all fees must be based on costs. Companies like AT&T have complained that certain cities have assessed annual fees of up to $8,000 per 5G attachment.
All four FCC commissioners supported the rules, though Jessica Rosenworcel, the lone Democrat on the commission, warned that the requirements “run roughshod over state and local authority” and constitute “extraordinary federal overreach.”
The FCC says the equipment can fit into a pizza box and is unobtrusive. But some residents have expressed concerns that the contraptions will look like “a Medusa.” And local officials have said that the rules will strip their ability to negotiate with companies and manage how their cities look and feel.
Lawyers from Philadelphia sent comments to the FCC saying the order might affect “the health, safety and welfare of the city.” Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, wrote that the FCC’s decision would “insert confusion into the market, and sow mistrust between my technology team and the carriers with whom we have already reached agreements.”