The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has encountered another roadblock in its effort to speed the rollout of 5G wireless service.
A federal court has ruled that the agency overstepped its bounds when it tried to exempt 5G cell sites from environmental impact and historic preservation reviews.
The FCC is concerned that the U.S. could fall behind in the deployment of the latest generation of wireless service and has been trying to aid providers in dealing with regulatory hurdles. But a U.S. appeals court ruled that cell sites using the new technology still must comply with existing regulations.
“We grant in part the petitions for review because the Order does not justify the Commission’s determination that it was not in the public interest to require review of small cell deployments,” the court ruled. “In particular, the Commission failed to justify its confidence that small cell deployments pose little to no cognizable religious, cultural, or environmental risk, particularly given the vast number of proposed deployments and the reality that the Order will principally affect small cells that require new construction.”
Exemption from review
In 2018, the FCC adopted an order that exempted most small cell construction from required reviews. The reviews had to do with historic preservation -- making sure the cell deployments didn’t encroach on or diminish historically or culturally important sites.
The agency justified its action claiming it was necessary to speed up the deployment of 5G networks, which are significantly faster than current 4G LTE networks. The United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma, the Blackfeet Tribe, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued, seeking to block the action.
In the end, the judges ruled that the FCC’s action "does not justify the Commission's determination that it was not in the public interest to require review of small cell deployments.”
The court said the FCC did not justify its contention that small cell 5G deployments pose little to no cognizable religious, cultural, or environmental risk.
The justices also said the agency did not "adequately address possible harms of deregulation and benefits of environmental and historic-preservation review."
The court concluded that the FCC’s deregulation of small cell deployments was “arbitrary and capricious."