Mobile wireless service is ubiquitous. Growth of domestic mobile data use is astronomical with growth rates expected to increase by as much as 20 times over the next five years. 4G LTE is lighting up our homes, schools, and workplaces. And 5G, we are told, is right around the corner. Growth requires infrastructure – new sites and modifications to existing facilities. Infrastructure requires permits, largely from local governments. But permit processes take time and local concerns can delay expansions. Now, however, the wireless telecommunications industry has a new tool to implement changes more quickly. And the Fourth Circuit has given the thumbs up to FCC regulations that foster these changes. See Montgomery County v. FCC, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 22070 (4th Cir. 2015).
This week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit put the finishing touch on its decision upholding FCC regulations interpreting a 2012 law that cleared the way for a category of infrastructure expansion projects by eliminating discretionary reviews by state and local governments. The law, and the FCC’s interpretation of it, is a significant win for the wireless telecommunications industry in its efforts to streamline deployment of infrastructure, which can be slowed by state and local processes. On Feb. 16, 2016, the industry scored another victory when the court denied the petitioners’ motion seeking rehearing and rehearing en banc.
This is a big deal. Before the 2012 law, one of the most effective tools the wireless telecommunications industry could leverage for infrastructure expansions was the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Strong as that law is, it can present round-peg-square-hole challenges. After all, what mobile devices did you have in 1996? For those who had them, what did you do with your mobile devices besides make really expensive phone calls?