FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, left, confers with Commissioner Michael O'Rielly at a House Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on July 25. File Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 26 (UPI) -- At least 20 U.S. municipalities are challenging a Federal Communications Commission rule limiting their autonomy in the rollout of 5G wireless networks.
Separate lawsuits were filed this week in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Bellevue, Wash., Portland, Ore., and several other cities and counties. They ask the 9th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals to review FCC rule changes which include restrictions on municipalities in charging access to public utility poles by wireless companies.
The improved 5G networks, an upgrade over the current 4G system, require small "cell sites" every several hundred feet to broadcast short-range signals. The 5G system will deliver faster download speeds to cellphones and other mobile devices, and are expected to bring new products and services, including self-driving cars and improvements in telemedicine.
The new networks' hardware calls for more cell sites, closer to homes and clustered on streetlights and utility poles. Most 1990s-era zoning laws are more concerned with the erection of large cellphone towers.
At issue is a limit on what cities and counties can charge for installation of required wiring. The new FCC rule limits the amount a municipality can charge to $270 per year, per cell site.
With the 4G system, carriers were annually charged an average of $500 per pole. Municipalities objected to the new rule before it was unanimously approved by the four-member FCC board in September, arguing that it could destabilize funding for public programs.
The lawsuits also cite perceived FCC overreach and removal of local control of decision-making.
The measure would be "severely hindering local governments' ability to fulfill our public health and safety responsibilities during the construction and modification" of cell sites, Brent Fedors, county administrator for Gloucester County, Va., wrote in a letter to the FCC.