Telecom Trends to Watch: FCC Rule Changes Favor Co-Locations

Tom Marciano, Chief Growth Officer
March 24, 2021

While the FCC’s 2012 Spectrum Act set the initial guidelines around how telecom carriers handle spectrum, these regulations have been put to the test over the past years as both the needs of end-users and technology continue to change drastically. With the speed of technology increasing and the demand for wireless connectivity on the rise, the FCC was faced with a problem: the process of getting permitting, zoning, and building sites, or modifying existing sites took carriers and "towercos" a lot of time and money. The process wasn’t sustainable with how fast the tech world was growing and changing. 

  • The first step was the 5G Upgrade Order, a Declaratory Ruling on Section 6409(a) passed in June 2020 —this ruling clarified details for local jurisdictions on how to meet the standards of the FCC by adding critical details around non-substantial site updates. This included how they are defining an update to a co-location (vs. new build), when the 60-day shot clock starts for getting approval to update your co-location, and further defining what concealment elements are and what limits are on conditional approvals. In this update, the FCC also ruled that relatively small components like remote radio heads/remote radio units do not qualify as “equipment cabinets” and more. 
  • On top of that, the FCC issued another clarification of Section 6409(a) in October 2020 and now allows for limited Compound Expansions for collocations. The FCC agreed that businesses that are upgrading their existing towers with co-locations and new equipment should be able to expand up to 30 feet of space into the surrounding area to accommodate that equipment.

The goal of these regulation updates is to meet the accelerated deployment rate of wireless by better utilizing the infrastructure that is currently in place. For carriers and towercos, these rulings create new opportunities to grow and expand quickly, by rolling out a faster permitting process for co-locations. The Spectrum Act favors co-locations by treating them differently: when a carrier expands their reach by modifying a site that already exists (instead of building a new site), the process is shorter, simpler, and more efficient. In this end, this allows telecommunications businesses to grow, expand, and deploy faster than ever before.

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