Politics

Activists File An Amicus Brief To Close The Digital Divide

CWA, Other Advocacy Groups, File Amicus Brief in Suit Against FCC Ruling Weakening Municipal Authority to Manage Public Property

Digital Divide
Activedia / Pixabay

Ruling seen as giveaway to major wireless companies, harmful to efforts to close the digital divide and protect public safety

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Washington, D.C. -- Today the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Public Knowledge are filing an amicus brief in the lawsuit against the Trump administration’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to weaken municipal authority to manage streets and public property.

Issued in September, the FCC order–which deals with 5G and “small cell” deployment procedures where companies place wireless equipment on public property-forces localities to rent out space on traffic and light poles for well below market value. In response to the ruling dozens of cities and counties have sued the Trump administration.

According to Debbie Goldman, CWA Telecom Policy Director:

“We’re glad to be standing with the municipalities that are pushing back against this senseless ruling. The country doesn’t need to give up safety or fair standards to move our networks forward. We can create a 5G future where no one is left behind, with robust investment in next-generation networks that create good jobs and connect everyone.”

In the brief, the organizations argue that the FCC rules are a major federal overreach, in violation of federal law and the Constitution, and that they harm efforts to close the digital divide by tying the hands of cities that are doing innovative work to improve digital equity, writing:

“In order to protect public welfare and address the digital divide, states and localities must be able to charge appropriate fees. Millions of Americans don’t have access to high quality internet. Those on the wrong side of the digital divide are left out of advantages in areas as diverse as economic development, education, healthcare, and civic participation.”

The brief also argues that the ruling threatens public safety by placing aggressive deadlines on how quickly localities need to process applications. If cities can’t meet the deadlines, the ruling allows wireless companies to sue them under an unforgiving standard. However, these installations can be very complicated–companies are at times seeking to install equipment the size of a refrigerator, or poles that can weigh over 800 pounds–and cities and towns will be tasked with needing to do proper safety and engineering review. The brief also cites the widespread reliance of wireless carriers on low-road subcontractors that present safety risks and a need for deliberate oversight.

“Localities across the U.S. are doing important work to promote deployment of next-generation fixed and wireless broadband networks, including 5G, by ensuring that these networks are deployed equitably and are available to everyone,” said Phillip Berenbroick, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge. “The FCC's action undermined local oversight of small-cell deployments and replaced local decision-making on public safety, aesthetic, and the historic character of communities with the judgement of three FCC commissioners. The FCC should work with -- not subvert -- state, county, and municipal government efforts to provide broadband access for everyone, and especially to low-income, rural, and minority communities on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

“The FCC’s rules are setting the stage for a new digital divide -- those who do and do not have access to 5G,” said Angela Siefer, Executive Director at National Digital Inclusion Alliance. “If local governments can't ensure that 5G networks are equitably deployed, poorer communities will be last in line for upgraded broadband service, if indeed they ever receive it. We've seen this before with fiber deployments. Additionally, cities are losing an important tool for supporting the digital inclusion programs that those communities need.”

The amicus brief is being filed on Monday, June 17, 2019 in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.