The mobile-phone industry called for changes to the $6 billion broadband component of Congress’ $825 billion economic stimulus bill, requesting open-access provisions be stripped out and language added to require local action within 75 days on tower siting applications sought by wireless recipients of grants.
“[T]he utility of the [broadband] program will be compromised if carriers are hesitant to participate because of uncertainty about the vague, undefined and unnecessary ‘open access’ obligation that is to be implemented by the Federal Communications Commission on an expedited basis,” said Steve Largent, president of cellular industry association CTIA, in a letter to House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas).
Largent added that an open-access requirement “may frustrate Congress and the new administration’s objective of job creation by saddling the stimulus measure with an ambiguous government mandate that will deter providers from taking advantage of the grant program.”
The House Commerce Committee today began marking up the broadband section of the economic stimulus bill, with Republicans complaining about the hurried style of the legislative process and substance of the legislation itself.
“If the point of this exercise is to meet the president’s call for bipartisan ideas that stimulate broadband deployment and the economy, I do not believe that including controversial provisions on network neutrality, open-access, minimum speeds and build-out requirements do that,” said Barton. “These provisions are not bipartisan, and they harm rather than advance the stated goal. So-called network neutrality and open-access provisions discourage investment and innovation. The speed requirements are unrealistic at best, and neither competitively nor technologically neutral at worse. Maybe the worst of it is that this sort of legislative lard discourages companies from participating in the stimulus plan.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would like to get the economic stimulus bill to President Obama’s desk by mid-February.
CTIA’s Largent also said the broadband stimulus will be impeded unless Congress takes steps to speed up antenna sting approvals. “A guarantee that siting requests would be acted upon quickly will ensure that grant funds can be spent quickly and assist carriers and tower construction companies in efforts to maximize activity during the rapidly approaching 2009 construction season,” stated the CTIA president.
The wireless industry has been lobbying the FCC for rules to curb long delays in the antenna siting approval process, but the “shot-clock” approach is opposed by cities.