America is and can remain the leader in Fifth Generation wireless technology (5G) development and deployment as long as regulators practice regulatory humility – taking a right sized role and stepping out of the way when appropriate. FCC Commissioner Carr’s announcement of the new plan to advance 5G deployment does just that; it makes the government role right-sized when it comes to small cell deployment. Literally.

The regulatory structures surrounding large cell tower deployments should not apply to small cells, which are often no larger than a pizza box. Exempting small cell deployment from federal and environmental historic review processes advances the 5G timeline, and, since small cells are most often deployed in already developed areas, it reduces the likelihood that historic and environmental review processes will be invoked redundantly.

5G will bring millions of new jobs, approximately $275 billion in private sector investment, and a $500 billion boom to GDP. It’s efficient deployment is necessary for autonomous cars, internet of things, remote surgery, telehealth, smart cities, faster home and mobile broadband, and so much more. The possibilities are endless, but there are hurdles to clear before we can realize the potential of our 5G future.

The FCC has created an exception to the burdensome requirements for small cells to speed up the rollout of 5G. Currently, the review process required for large towers is also required for small cells. A small cell is a new type of broadband infrastructure no larger than 3 cubic feet that helps densify wireless service networks in an area to enhance capacity. Despite the small footprint, service providers are forced to undergo the same regulatory review process as massive towers to install these small cells.

Wireless providers have run into roadblocks from various federal review processes, including reviews from tribes. The Tribal review process, which gives members of tribes the opportunity to challenge or assess fees as a prerequisite to placing equipment, in some states extends across the entire state, not just on tribal territory. While the review is an important mechanism to protect Tribal land, it should not be applied on already existing infrastructure or expanded to territory outside of tribal lands.

This process not only adds significant time to placing cells, it also adds significant cost. One wireless carrier estimates 17% of their costs for placing small cells goes towards these regulatory costs and expects to spend $29 million in 2018 just on these fees alone. A few noted examples of these high fees include: a fee of $13,525 for a review of collocation on a hotel in Minnesota, and $8,000 for placement on a civic center in Denver.  This is money that could facilitate investment and deployment for multiple projects that will provide better coverage, and services.

Exempting small cells from the environmental, historical, or tribal process (especially for deployment on already developed land such as parking lots, bus stops, streetlights, etc.) will not trample on the rights of those on tribal lands, but will expand opportunities through connectivity.

Commissioner Brendan Carr today announced a plan to exclude small wireless facilities from the environmental and historic review procedure designed for large macrocell deployments. Making a determination that they are neither federal undertakings nor major federal actions does this. This will reduce the regulatory costs of deployment by 80%. This will shave months off deployment timelines and expand 5G deployment. He addressed the Tribal review concerns by proposing a plan to streamline the historic review procedures and update the Section 106 Tribal Consultation process. By addressing upfront fees, the consultation process and creating a clear timeline for a Tribe to respond. These changes will only apply to deployments outside of reservation boundaries and Tribal lands.

As Commissioner Carr emphasized the importance of maintaining US leadership in wireless as we upgrade to 5G. To ensure that the US is 5G ready he announced the plan to streamline the federal historic and environmental review procedures that apply to wireless infrastructure deployments.

The government should get out the way, so the United States will remain pioneers in this new technology. It is critical that we are the first in the race to be 5G ready, and ensure that every American across the country has access to cheap, competitive, and lightening fast broadband services.