US cities issue lawsuit threats against the FCC over 5G rules

A collection of US cities accuse the FCC of 5G infrastructure policy ‘overreach’ and have issued lawsuit threats in response.

The FCC’s recent policy change limits how much local municipalities can bill for letting telecom carriers mount 5G cellular equipment on city-owned infrastructure.

Rules passed on September 26th restrict cities from charging firms more than $270 per year for each piece of equipment attached to city property. In Portland, for example, that’s $2,730 less than what is charged under current rules.

Advocates claim it will speed up the 5G rollout by reducing the cost and difficulty of negotiating with local officials. Critics say it’s a policy which favours big business and takes money from communities; while allowing equipment to be installed in potentially unsightly places.

Cities are not taking the new rules sitting down. Lawsuits are said to be springing up in cities across Massachusetts, in Portland, Seattle, and more.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a joint statement:

“Seattle strongly opposes this overreach by the Trump administration.

Instead of expediting the deployment of high-speed internet or addressing digital inequity, the FCC’s actions impede local authority and will require cities to subsidize the wireless industry’s deployment for private gain, giving away public property without asking for anything in return.”

Additional information about the current process was provided by Seattle Information Technology:

“Depending on the pole location, height, and type of pole, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, Department of Neighborhoods, and/or the city’s Design Commission may also be involved in the review process to evaluate the impact of the proposed facility on the safety, traffic control, and aesthetic.

The FCC’s action will significantly impact this process and impede our ability to make decisions that are in the best interest of our city and neighbourhoods.”

Lawsuits are ramping up between local and federal governments over telecoms policy. This latest news arrives mere days after Telecoms reported Trump’s administration was issuing a lawsuit of its own against California over its net neutrality bill.

Net neutrality ensures all internet traffic is treated equally. Opponents claim services with high bandwidth usage, like Netflix, should pay more in order to pay for supporting infrastructure. The arguments in favour are multi-faceted.

Advocates of the rules say repealing them leads to ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ lanes and goes against the principles of the internet. Telcos can favour their own services – or those which pay them more – at the expense of others.

The laws are seen as pro-consumer, while the decision to repeal favours big business.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra commented:

"While the Trump Administration continues to ignore the millions of Americans who voiced strong support for net neutrality rules, California — home to countless start-ups, tech giants and nearly 40 million consumers — will not allow a handful of power brokers to dictate sources for information or the speed at which websites load.

We remain deeply committed to protecting freedom of expression, innovation and fairness."

Consumer advocacy groups have welcomed California’s bill, saying it offers some of the strongest internet protections in the country. Most telcos argue it should be left to the federal government to decide.

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