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FCC TO SET ANTENNA SITE RULES

WASHINGTON-The wireless telecom industry apparently has failed to secure support from federal regulators and the Clinton administration for broad pre-emption of antenna moratoria, though efforts are in play to provide limited relief to carriers.

The Federal Communications Commission, according to sources, is expected shortly to propose guidelines to detangle health-related antenna siting disputes between wireless carriers and local and state regulators.

The commission is expected to examine what documentation wireless carriers should produce to demonstrate compliance with federal radio-frequency exposure rules and what process should be available to cities and states that believe licensees are not abiding by those rules. The wireless industry supports self-certification for RF exposure compliance.

The FCC also likely will seek feedback on what amount of time constitutes a legitimate moratorium and what constitutes an unreasonable delay.

The wireless industry, confronted with 200 moratoria/delays today, is concerned with those that exceed 60 to 90 days. The industry estimates more than 100,000 antennas will be required to build out new personal communications services systems and expand existing cellular phone networks.

Yet, the FCC proposal-which was being debated privately by the four commissioners last week-falls far short of industry’s request for a moratoria and taxation pre-emption policy with teeth.

Nevertheless, according to an FCC staffer, the initiative could lay the foundation for narrow pre-emption of state and local ordinances that bar antenna siting on the basis of health concerns.

The industry has been seeking FCC relief for two years. The lack of a response up to now is attributed, in part, to FCC General Counsel William Kennard’s desire to analyze the various pre-emption petitions together in order to avoid legal inconsistency.

The telecom act of 1996 prohibits such siting delays on health grounds if a carrier complies with RF exposure guidelines.

Besides health concerns, antenna siting moratoria have been prompted by concerns over aesthetics and property values.

Meanwhile, House telecommunications subcommittee Chairman Billy Tauzin (D-La.) plans to introduce legislation in mid-July that addresses delays in the deployment of telecommunications services, like PCS.

Besides the delay created by local zoning boards, the wireless industry is concerned about the time required to conduct the antenna siting rulemaking.

The industry fears local and state governments may simply take advantage of the year or longer needed to complete the rulemaking to further stymie construction of wireless systems.

As such, the industry is pushing for interim rules to move the siting process forward during the FCC rulemaking process.

FCC Chairman Reed Hundt’s antenna siting letter to U.S. mayors several months ago drew angry responses and does not appear to have made a dent in the siting impasse.

Now, Vice President Al Gore has signaled the administration is not ready to embrace broad pre-emption of local and state land use regulations.

Nation’s Cities Weekly, the publication of the National League of Cities, reported June 16 that Gore told a group of state and local leaders they should be concerned about attempts to pre-empt their telecommunications authority and that it did not seem right for Congress to usurp “what you currently have.”

Randy Johnson, commissioner of Hennepin County, Minn., and president-elect of the National Association of Counties, was quoted as telling Gore: “We are concerned about the pending actions at the Federal Communications Commission on issues involving tax and franchise authority. These are federal regulators with little understanding of traditional state and local authority and police power.”

It is unclear, however, where the administration’s sympathies lie. On the one hand, Gore empathizes with local and state officials over pre-emption efforts.

Yet, Gore and President Clinton, at the urging of the wireless industry, generated an executive order two years ago to force federal agencies to make room for wireless antennas. That has created problems within government, particularly among conservationists at the National Park Service.

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