Mayors of 36 cities, including two high-tech hubs, have formally challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s support of policies meant to help network operators deploy small cells.

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The mayors of San Jose, Austin and 34 other cities claim the FCC is more focused on “limiting local decision-making” than on removing barriers to broadband deployment. In a letter to the agency, the mayors said they are “calling for the support of the FCC as we seek to expedite the expansion of 5G infrastructure in our communities.”

The municipalities have joined forces to form a group called Next Century Cities. Along with its letter to the FCC, Next Century Cities has released research that it funded to find out what city governments think about small cells, which are seen as the building blocks of 5G networks. The research found that most cities have either made provisions for small cells or plan to do so, but the overwhelming majority are worried about state laws that could pre-empt local authority.

Florida, Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, Virgina, Minnesota and Indiana have already passed laws pre-empting local authority over small cell installations on public property and/or the prices that cities can charge for access to that property. Cities are worried that the next law pre-empting their authority could come from the federal government.

“We are going to continue to turn toward state and local [issues],” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr told Network Builder Reports recently. Carr, the commissioner charged with overseeing wireless infrastructure initiatives, said he does not want small cell deployments to become a “profit center” for municipalities.

The mayors say profit is not the point and that they just want to recoup their costs.

“Some communities are finding that the increased number of small cell applications and permits require the hiring of additional staff,” the mayors said in their letter, adding that if they are limited in the amount they can charge for access to public property, their only choice is to cover costs by raising taxes. “By failing to charge a reasonable fee to companies wanting to use public space, such low limits are a de facto subsidization of private business by local taxpayers,” the mayors wrote.

Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee

Next Century Cities is particularly concerned about statements made by the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. The mayors see the writing on the wall and expect this committee to recommend pre-emption of local authority when it comes to small cells.

The BDAC is meant to include representatives from municipalities, industry and government. One of the key municipal representatives on the committee, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, resigned recently.

“It has become abundantly clear that this body will simply serve to further telecom industry interests,” Liccardo wrote in his resignation letter. “The apparent goal is to create a set of rules that will provide industry with easy access to publicly-funded infrastructure at taxpayer-subsidized rates, without any obligation to provide broadband access to underserved residents.”

Liccardo has been called The Mayor from Hell by analyst John Strand, who claims that Liccardo never actually attended single BDAC meeting and that the mayor is trying to charge exorbitant fees for access to city-owned poles.

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