FCC Streamlines Review Process for Modifications to Wireless Infrastructure

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) has revised its rules implementing Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act of 2012 so that that state and local governments may not deny certain requests to modify existing wireless structures that do not substantially change the physical dimensions of the structures. This revision creates a 30-foot zone of existing macro wireless tower sites within which alterations by excavation or deployment of transmission equipment are not considered a modification and such alterations are not required to be approved under Section 6409. Such modifications are limited to the boundaries most recently reviewed and approved by the local government. This rule change does not apply, however, to easements or to small cells on buildings or in the public rights-of-way. These changes are consistent with the Nationwide Programmatic Agreement for the Collocation of Wireless Antennas (“Collocation NPA”), which permits a limited expansion beyond the site boundaries without federal historic preservation review of a collocation.

The Commission has also revised the definition of the term “site.” A “site” now includes the boundaries that existed as of the date of the original support structure, or the boundaries that were most recently reviewed and approved by the state or local government. If the state or local government approval occurred prior to the implementation of Section 6409 or was outside the bounds of the Section 6409(a) process, the boundaries of a site will be measured by reference to when the state or local government last reviewed or approved the structure for which modification is sought. The revision of the definition of “site” is not applicable to towers in public rights-of-way.

These revised rules took effect on January 4, 2021. If you have any questions about the revisions to the rules or would like to discuss please contact Clare Andonov at [email protected], Robin Tuttle at [email protected] or Hilary Rosenthal at [email protected]