Deployment of Small Wireless Facilities Once Again Subject to Environmental and Historic Preservation Review

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The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (Bureau) has issued an order reinstating its environmental rules under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), once again subjecting small cell deployments to the same reviews as required for larger wireless facilities. In the FCC’s 2018 Infrastructure Second Report and Order, the FCC excluded certain small cell construction from environmental and historic preservation review on the basis that small facility deployments did not constitute federal undertakings. Several Tribes challenged the Order as unlawful. In August 2019, a federal appeals court (Court) vacated and remanded that portion of the Order exempting small wireless facilities from environmental review stating the FCC failed to justify that small cell deployments pose little religious, cultural, or environmental risk. Consistent with the Court’s mandate, the Bureau rescinds the small wireless facilities exemption. The Bureau notes that the Order withdrawing the small cell exemption is ministerial and does not require notice and comment because it merely implements the Court’s mandate. This Order becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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