T-Mobile has told the FCC it plans to add tens of thousands of new cell sites and upgrade existing base stations, but is hitting governmental barriers at the state and local level.
In documents filed Thursday, T-Mobile said its wireless network currently has about 66,000 cell sites, including macro sites, small cells, and distributed antenna systems (DAS) nodes. The carrier said approximately 6,000 of those are located within public Right of Way (ROW) zones across 24 states, a number T-Mobile plans to increase to more than 50,000 across the country within five years.
However, T-Mobile asserts its progress is being delayed because of various hurdles that the operator said require “prompt FCC action.”
Two obstacles T-Mobile noted are local siting requirements and zoning regulations. For example, the operator pointed to an “undergrounding” code in Minneapolis that requires base stations be underground as a condition of approval.
T-Mobile also contends local governments are imposing “exorbitant” site fees, such as recurring annual fees and application fees. The operator cited Cottleville, Mo., which previously charged each wireless carrier $6,000 per site each year, but now requires an annual fee of $6,000 per wireless antenna. This results in a 500 percent increase from $12,000 to $72,000 for T-Mobile to operate two facilities, the company said in its filing.
“These fees are unreasonable and unrelated to actual cost recovery,” T-Mobile wrote. The company recommends the FCC limit ROW charges and application fees to actual ROW management and processing costs.
In places like San Francisco, meanwhile, wireless infrastructure is singled out for discretionary aesthetic factors that aren’t applied to other facilities, T-Mobile noted.
According to the filing, some areas don’t process siting applications in a timely matter, while others adopt on a formal freeze on requests, “or simply fail to act on applications.” For example, Florida currently has 26 jurisdictions that placed moratoria on applications, T-Mobile said, adding that two have been in moratoria for more than a year.
The recent filing is only the latest the debate over federal intervention on the state and local level for infrastructure deployments on the path to 5G.
In March, Verizon urged the FCC to take action to help clear what it called a “minefield” of municipal regulations around small cell deployments.
The Commission decided in April to examine how state and local processes affect the speed and cost of infrastructure deployment, and consider whether to take action on siting applications that were not addressed in a timely manner.
The FCC requested comments on improving state and local infrastructure reviews.