FCC, Historic Preservation Groups Agree To Speed Up This Whole 5G Deployment Thing

Image courtesy of Ben Roffelsen Photography

For an agency that telecom companies like to lambaste as old-fashioned, out-of-touch, and wedded to the past, the FCC sure is speeding up full-tilt into the future. To wit: the Commission is streamlining a bunch of regulations to make it as easy as possible to build 5G networks as fast as possible.

The FCC announced this week that it signed an agreement (PDF) to help streamline the buildout of 5G infrastructure, which requires lots of antennas and nodes dotted all over.

MORE: What the heck is 5G, anyway?

It is, admittedly, kind of wonky, deeply unsexy stuff. One bureau of the Commission has signed an agreement with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO) that will let companies building out network nodes skip a bureaucratic step, basically, by “eliminating historic preservation review for small facility deployments that do not adversely impact historic sites and locations.”

In actual English, that means that you can hang an antenna on a landmark, if it won’t damage the landmark, without first going through a tedious mountain of back-and-forth paperwork.

But each of these small steps is important, because they add up. The high frequency airwaves the FCC unanimously opened up for 5G to use don’t work quite the same way as the bands current cellular tech uses. Those waves travel shorter distances and are more likely to be blocked by obstacles (like buildings). And that means in order to build out an ultra high-speed 5G network, we’re going to need a lot more little tiny dots of infrastructure. Like, a lot a lot.

So a review process to get each individual antenna and repeater installed may not be too arduous on its own, but multiply that out by tens or hundreds of thousands nationwide and, well, it starts to get expensive and time consuming pretty quickly. And that, in turn, slows deployment and makes the companies whose infrastructure it is very, very cranky.

That’s where agreements like this come in. If you say your antenna won’t break anything, then we’ll assume you mean it, and we can all move on with our lives. Done.

In a statement about the agreement, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, “The interconnected world of the future will be the result of decisions we make today. That is why 5G is a national priority, and why today’s agreement to streamline small cell deployment will play a critical role in the successful deployment of next generation wireless service.”

The head of the Commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (i.e. the people in charge of regulating mobile tech), Jon Wilkins, added, “The agreement reflects the Commission’s vigilant commitment to enabling swift but responsible deployment of wireless infrastructure. The Bureau is open for business on infrastructure siting, and we welcome input on how to further improve the siting process.”