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Court: FCC Allowed to Manage Tower Siting Process

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Dec 21, 2015, 6:43 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

An appeals court sided with the FCC recently in a decision that upholds the agency's authority to accelerate the process of gaining local approval for cell towers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that local governments are not allowed to stymie or otherwise hinder the permitting of cell towers. Municipalities cannot deny requests to modify wireless equipment, said the court, especially if the modifications don't represent a substantial change to what's already in place. In 2014, the FCC overhauled the federal environmental review process in a bid to make it easier for wireless network operators to add distributed antenna systems and small cells to existing towers and sites. A number of cities and counties sued, claiming the FCC overstepped its authority, misinterpreted the Spectrum Act, and violated the states' 10th Amendment rights. The towns also took issue with the FCC's declaration that once a company applied for approval, it would be deemed granted within 60 days. The court, however, ruled the FCC does have the authority, and is interpreting and applying the law correctly. The decision is a win for companies that operate cell towers.

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