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On Friday, August 3, the FCC released its order adopting a One-Touch Make-Ready (OTMR) policy for attaching telecom and cable facilities to utility poles in the 30 states that don’t regulate pole attachments themselves. The FCC stated that it believes its action should help enable deployment of small cells and wireline backhaul for 5G services. However, Commissioner Rosenworcel, the only Democrat on the Commission, stated that she is concerned that the policy will slow down deployment because the Commission’s “definitions of simple and complex processes do not provide enough real-world guidance to attachers and utilities, setting the stage for disputes and delays.”

The order itself is problematic for a number of reasons, including those raised by Commissioner Rosenworcel.

Many of the provisions do not appear well grounded in the reality of electric utility operations, and in practice might not serve the Commission’s goals of promoting broadband and 5G services.  For example, the public safety, worker safety, and reliability implications of losing control over the electric space cannot be overestimated.  While the final order makes helpful changes to address certain concerns expressed by our Coalition of Concerned Utilities in this proceeding, we would much prefer that this electric space self-help remedy be removed entirely.

For more information, please contact Tom Magee (magee@khlaw.com; 202.434.4128) or Tim Doughty (doughty@khlaw.com; 202.434.4271).

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In December 2013, the FCC adopted rules to improve 911 network reliability.  The rules require Covered 911 Service Providers (“Providers”) to take certain measures to provide reliable 911 service.  The specific measures adopted by the agency attempt to address three network vulnerabilities identified by the FCC in the aftermath of the derecho storm that knocked out 911 service along the east coast in 2012.

Earlier this summer, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking comment on the efficacy of these rules and soliciting input on whether those rules need to be revised.  Comments were filed last month and Reply Comments are due in mid-August.

The Rules

The rules require Providers to promote reliable 911 service with respect to three network elements: circuit auditing, central-office backup power, and diverse network monitoring.  Providers must certify annually that they have met the FCC’s safe harbor provisions for each of those elements or have taken reasonable alternative measures in lieu of those safe harbor protections.  The rules also require Providers to notify PSAPs of any outage that impacts 911 service.

Providers subject to these rules include entities that provide 911, E911, or NG911 capabilities such as call routing, automatic location information (ALI), automatic number identification (ANI), or the functional equivalent of those capabilities, to a public safety answering point (PSAP).

What Has Worked?

Identifying Network Elements.  The Commission considered adopting a generic standard that would have required Providers to take reasonable measures to generally promote network reliability.  Instead, it adopted specific rules that require Providers to meet precise (and narrow) benchmarks that the agency believes will promote network reliability.  This includes conducting circuit audits, ensuring adequate backup power is maintained in data centers, and having diverse paths to monitor network traffic.  These specific standards have worked.  They enable the FCC to address key vulnerabilities in the 911 network while providing the industry with clear, achievable targets.

Annual Certification.  One reason the FCC requires an annual certification is to ensure that senior management is aware of significant vulnerabilities in the 9-1-1 network and accountable for decisions regarding network design, maintenance, and disaster preparedness.  In my experience, this also has worked.  The rules require a senior executive to sign a certification under penalty of perjury, which ensures that senior management is aware of – and involved in – network design and maintenance decisions.

What Needs to be Changed?

Though largely successful, the Commission should consider a few revisions to clarify and strengthen the rules.

Definition of a Provider.  The definition of a Covered 911 Service Provider could be revised to add clarity.  The Commission should tweak this definition to confirm that a Provider must have a direct contractual relationship with a PSAP to provide routing, ALI, and/or ANI service.  This would eliminate confusion about which entities are – and are not – Providers subject to these rules.

PSAP Notifications.  The rules require Providers to communicate outage information directly to PSAPs.  The well-founded intent is to enable PSAP personnel to have real time outage information to formulate appropriate responses to network issues.  However, this frequently leads to individual PSAPs receiving multiple outage updates for a single network event.  By revising the definition of a Provider (as suggested above), the FCC may be able to eliminate some of the duplicative PSAP communication problems so that only the entity with a contractual relationship with the PSAP communicates outage information.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The FCC is seeking objective feedback about the rules because it has not yet determined whether they should be revised, expanded, curtailed, or left unchanged.  One bellwether for determining whether the FCC believes the rules have been effective is going to be how the agency treats the annual certification requirement.

Some commenters have suggested that the certification should be made once every two, three, or even five years.  Other parties urged the FCC to relax the certification obligation so that it need not be made under penalty of perjury by a corporate officer.  Still other parties have urged the FCC to eliminate the certification requirement.

How the Commission handles this issue will indicate whether the agency pursues a deregulatory agenda.

My two cents?  By and large, the rules have worked.  The FCC should make some minor clarifying revisions to the rules, but should otherwise leave the rules unchanged.

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To speed deployment of wireless broadband to the nation’s communities, the FCC created a Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) charged with drafting model codes to govern the relationship between wireless carriers and states and local jurisdictions. However, what may be a “model” for carriers looking to speed broadband deployment and maximize profits is not being viewed favorably by local jurisdictions seeking to protect land use from unsightly and overzealous deployment and to receive a fair share of the revenue generated from wireless carriers’ use of local infrastructure.

5G Deployments Will Benefit from Access to Public Infrastructure. Fifth generation wireless network technology – or 5G as it is more commonly known – is a dynamic broadband technology having substantial promise and potential. Wireless speeds and lower latency rates for wireless communications will improve exponentially, leading to innovation and uses that could include augmented and virtual reality, the Internet of Things, smart homes, smart cities and autonomous vehicles.

For this technology to blossom two things are necessary – sufficient spectrum and available infrastructure. It is anticipated that the full implementation of 5G calls for spectrum having super-wide bandwidth that, in turn, can only be transmitted over very short distances, resulting in the need for hundreds of thousands more cells than currently exist. These so-called “small cells” are low-powered base stations that cover much smaller areas than the typical macrocell. Whereas macrocell deployments are typically 70-300 feet in height, small cell transmitters are mounted 30-60 feet above ground, having coverage areas measured in meters, not miles.

The FCC is intent on ensuring that sufficient spectrum is available to meet the 5G needs of the wireless carriers, initiating multiple spectrum rulemakings and planning for auctions that will be conducted during the next several years. The Commission also intends to play a major part in facilitating the availability of infrastructure.

Because of the massive number of cells that will be required for 5G, local community infrastructure including traffic lights, lamp posts and similar structures are needed for a successful broadband deployment. In some residential neighborhoods, new small cells may need to be placed in public rights-of-way in front of homes and apartment complexes. This essential requirement is causing significant debate on the respective needs of carriers and communities – and much activity at the federal, state and local levels.

BDAC’s Work is Wrapping Up. With the hope of developing a framework for broadband deployment on a nationwide basis, the FCC created the BDAC to provide recommendations on how best to accelerate the deployment of broadband. As part of its mission, the BDAC is working on a Model Broadband Code for Municipalities and a Model Broadband Code for States. It hopes to finish its deliberations soon and then propose the codes to the FCC for consideration as nationwide “model” codes.

BDAC’s one-sided tilt favoring wireless carriers proved too much for some local jurisdictions. San Jose Mayor, Sam Liccardo, was initially vice chair of the BDAC’s municipal model code committee. He felt that this working group, heavily weighted with carrier representatives, was working to promote the interests of carriers and not the public. He resigned from the BDAC in January of this year saying that “after nine months of deliberation, negotiation, and discussion, we’ve made no progress toward a single proposal that will actually further the goal of equitable broadband deployment.” The Chief Technology Officer of New York City, the nation’s largest city, withdrew from the BDAC for similar reasons.

A More Balanced Approach Emerges. Six months after Mayor Liccardo’s departure from the BDAC, the City of San Jose reached small cell agreements with three wireless carriers including, AT&T and Verizon. These agreements contain numerous municipally-friendly provisions.  For example, each carrier will be required to comply with the City’s public noticing process before installing a small cell on any of the City’s light poles. In addition, each small cell will have to meet the City’s established design standards, which restrict the size and placement of each installation. Recurring fees to place small cells on city structures are market-based and range up to a rate of $2,500 per site – in stark contrast to “cost-based” rates of less than $50 proposed in other jurisdictions.

As a strong advocate of a collaborative approach to broadband deployment, FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel was so impressed that she posted San Jose’s agreements on the FCC’s website, referring to them as “model” agreements. Commissioner Rosenworcel urges similar carrier-local government cooperation across the country based on the framework of these agreements.

Restrictive State Laws Already in Place. Not all jurisdictions will have the opportunity to apply the San Jose model for the benefit of their residents. Restrictive state laws prevail in many jurisdictions. The wireless industry has been successful in its lobbying efforts to get state legislatures to pass broadband legislation favorable to the industry. These laws restrict the ability of local jurisdictions to protect land use from potential overreaching by wireless carriers or to negotiate market-based rates for carrier access to rights-of-way and local infrastructure.

At last count, some 20 states had adopted such legislation. Common elements of these statewide preemption laws include capped fees for right-of-way use, expedited timelines for processing infrastructure applications, limited scope for local governments to deny requests, presumed application approvals, and limited (or prohibited) zoning authority over attachment to new poles.

Last year, Governor Jerry Brown of California vetoed similar broadband legislation. This decision was instrumental in positioning San Jose to enter into market-based agreements enabling broadband deployment for the benefit of both the wireless industry and the local community. A true win-win situation.

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On June 28, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing the 220 applicants that qualified for the CAF II reverse auction.  These entities include rural rate of return carriers, electric cooperatives, wireless internet services providers, satellite providers, cable operators, and price cap ILECs (or affiliates thereof).  Several consortiums also qualified.  In one sense, the auction is already a resounding success as it elicited qualified bids from an array of existing and prospective rural broadband service providers.

One significant question that will be answered later this summer or early in the fall is the distribution of the performance tiers among the winning bids:  Gigabit–Gbps/500 Mbps, Above Baseline–100/20 Mbps, Baseline–25/3 Mbps, and Minimum–10/1 Mbps. This should inform the FCC, Congress and the public as to whether the current fixed broadband benchmark of 25/3 Mbps should be retained or increased. The winning bids will indicate what speeds are reasonably doable in many rural areas.  An answer to a related question is whether the distribution of winning bidders tracks the diversity of qualified applicants.

From a systems perspective, the reverse auction, scheduled to start on July 24, will confirm whether the bidding system can accommodate the diversity of bidding weights, package bidding and calculate the data points for individual bidders and the aggregate implied support amounts after each round.  This could encourage the use of reverse auctions in other USF contexts.

Assuming positive outcomes on these points, one criticism of the CAF II auction that will not be resolved concerns the selection of eligible bidding areas.  Census blocks having multiple high-cost locations (based on the average of low cost, high cost and extremely high cost locations) in which a single location obtained service at 10/1 Mbps were not eligible for the CAF II auction.  The result was eligible bidding areas with only one or a handful of locations included in the auction while census blocks having far more unserved locations excluded.  This unfortunate “false-positive” needs to be addressed in both the Remote Areas Fund auction and in the auction that could take place as the state-wide offers to the price cap carriers expire in 2021.

By 2021, the progress reports filed by CAF II auction winners should either validate or raise questions as to whether the reverse auction is producing the desired outcomes of higher speed, reliable fixed broadband service in rural areas at reasonable rates.  Another unknown is whether the minimum, baseline, and above baseline performance tiers for the 2018 auction will apply in 2021.  Our sense is technology advances and marketplace developments such as Charter’s network-wide gigabit deployments will drive these thresholds higher.

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In-building reception of mobile service is a prerequisite in multitenant commercial and residential properties. Office environments in which individuals cannot check their smartphones or place a call during a break in a meeting or conference leave impressions—negative ones. Asking a resident to pay $2000 or more per month in a Class A apartment complex having poor wireless reception is a non-starter. Reliance on WiFi calling is a high-risk proposition.

The challenge in both commercial and residential multi-tenant properties is that energy-efficient building materials interfere with RF signals and cell coverage is largely unavailable above the 21st or 22nd floors. In MDUs, residents’ use of landline telephone service whether POTS, stand-alone VoIP or over-the-top VoIP is depicted in graphs and tables having steep, downward slopes. For owners of high-end properties, spotty mobile service coverage diminishes the appeal of a residential unit or prospective office location.

This challenge is compounded by the realities that (1) wireless carriers have limited Capex and Opex funds that are allocated on internal ROI assessments, and (2) these services providers are not obligated to extend their service to residents, tenants and visitors inside of multi-tenant residential or commercial properties. The same holds true for hotels. Carrier panelists at almost any wireless infrastructure conference emphasize that the wireless carriers will rarely, if at all, “take the investment” to support distributed antennas systems (DAS) (including “neutral host DAS systems”) and the balance of in-building wireless equipment (IBW) to extend service into and throughout multi-tenant properties.

Wireless carriers are more likely to fund or help fund investment in IBW systems to support wireless reception in major venues (convention centers, stadiums and arenas) and at major locations for their enterprise customers. The permissible use of mobile service signal boosters in commercial spaces is not a solution for many multitenant properties, even if the FCC adopts a simplified registration procedure for wideband (multi-carrier) boosters.

Another reality is that the RF elements of in-building wireless systems are subject to technological obsolescence as wireless carriers transition to higher capacity (5G) or more efficient transmission technologies that likely will occur multiple times during the life of a modern building.

Fundamentally, property owners must determine whether in-building wireless is an amenity or an essential utility. Wireless carriers must also demonstrate a higher level of flexibility in bringing solutions (though not necessarily funding IBW systems) to facilitate more reliable in-building wireless service. Hopefully, the impetus will not be a series of emergencies or tragedies that could have been avoided through reliable in-building wireless signal coverage.

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FCC Process Changes for Larger Wireless Facilities

Part 1 summarized the exemption of small wireless facilities from the FCC’s environmental review process under conditions specified in the new FCC rules adopted in March 2018. In its Second Report and Order, the FCC also took actions to streamline the review process for larger wireless facilities under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The FCC clarified its procedures for engaging Tribal Nations and Native Hawaiian Organizations (NHOs) in review of construction projects located off of Tribal lands. The FCC specified that applicants must provide all potentially affected Tribal Nations and NHOs with a Form 620 (for new towers) or a Form 621 (for collocations) packet where one of these forms is prepared. Forms 620 and 621 are required for review by State Historical Preservation Officers (SHPOs). If no SHPO review is required and thus there is no Form 620 or 621, applicants must provide Tribal Nations and NHOs “information adequate to fully explain the project and its locations.” At a minimum, that must include applicant contact information, coordinates, a description of the facility to be constructed including all of its elements, and a description of the proposed site including both aerial and site photographs. The FCC time lines for Tribal responses will not begin to run until a complete and accurate submission has been made by the applicant.

Regarding time lines, the FCC reduced the period in which Tribal Nations or NHOs must respond to notification if they have issues with proposed construction from up to 60 days to up to 45 days. If there has not been a response within that maximum of 45 days, the applicant’s pre-construction obligation to the non-responding entity is discharged. The 45 days includes time for an FCC follow-up notification in addition to the initial notification by the applicant.

The FCC clarified that applicants may choose to but are not required to pay fees requested by Tribal Nations or NHOs that have been invited to participate in this process. The FCC stated that some Tribal Nations and NHOs have been asking for an “up-front fee” before they will participate (i.e., respond). The FCC found that “up-front fees” are in the nature of a processing fee and applicants are not required to pay such fees. The FCC stated that if a Tribal Nation or NHO conditions its response on receipt of up-front compensation, the FCC will treat that as a failure to respond.

The FCC addressed situations in which Tribal Nations have requested payment for activities undertaken after initial determination that historic properties are likely to be located in a site vicinity. The FCC concluded that while an applicant may negotiate and contract with a Tribal Nation or NHO for services, “an applicant is not obliged to hire a Tribal Nation or accede to Tribal requests for fees in the absence of an agreement” and may seek other means of having needed work done. An applicant’s selection of a consultant is subject to the requirement that with respect to the identification and evaluation of historic properties, any assessment of effects shall be undertaken by a professional who meets the Secretary of the Interior’s Professional Qualification Standards.

The FCC specified a conflict resolution system to apply in individual cases of disagreement between an applicant and a Tribal Nation or NHO as to whether the applicant has met the reasonable and good faith standard in connection with the hiring of paid consultants.

The FCC adopted some reforms to its own processes as well. It modified a requirement for filing an Environmental Assessment (EA) for any proposed facility located in a floodplain. The FCC exempted from that requirement facilities that, including all associated equipment, will be constructed at least one foot above the base flood elevation, unless other criteria in the FCC rules trigger an EA.

The FCC also adopted time lines on its own processes when EAs are filed. The FCC puts EAs on public notice for 30 days to allow public input. It stated that most EAs are acted upon by its issuance of a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) about 15 days after the close of the public notice period. In the Second R&O, the FCC directed its staff to review EAs for completeness and adequacy to support a FONSI within 20 days of the date the EA is placed on public notice. If that review is positive, the FCC staff is instructed to advise the applicant that unless there is an informal complaint or petition to deny filed, a FONSI will be issued within 60 days of the date the EA was placed on public notice. If the staff review finds that additional information is required, the applicant will be notified within 30 days after the EA is placed on public notice. In that case, if a FONSI is warranted, it will be issued by the later of 60 days after the EA is placed on public notice or 30 days after the additional information is provided. If the additional information might affect the public’s ability to comment effectively, a new 60 day period may commence from the publication of the additional notice. Finally, if an informal complaint or petition to deny is filed against an application containing an EA, FCC staff is instructed to endeavor to try to resolve the matter within 90 days of the close of the pleading cycle.

These changes go into effect on July 2, 2018.

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FCC Exempts Wireless Small Cells from Environmental Review Requirements

A high FCC priority is to streamline broadband deployment including the wireless infrastructure necessary to provide service to the public. One FCC proceeding directed to that objective was initiated in April 2017 with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), Notice of Inquiry (NOI), and Request for Comment (RFC) regarding Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment.

The NPRM addressed Pole Attachments, Expediting Copper Retirement, and Streamlining the Section 214(a) Discontinuation of Service process. The NOI addressed possible prohibition of state and local laws inhibiting broadband deployment and pre-emption of state laws governing copper retirement. The RFC addressed common carrier discontinuation of service issues unrelated to wireless infrastructure and the environmental review process.

In November 2017 the FCC adopted a (first) Report and Order (R&O). It concluded that in specified circumstances “replacement of a pole that was constructed with a sole or primary purpose other than supporting communications antennas with a pole that will support such antennas would have no potential to affect historic properties.”  Accordingly, it excluded replacement utility poles from required review under Section 206 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) if specified conditions are met. Please see my December 5, 2017 blog entry “Is the Road to 5G Paved with Federal and State Pre-emptions of Local Authority?” for a summary of those conditions.

In March 2018, the FCC adopted a Second R&O. In it, the FCC excluded small wireless facilities from National Historic Preservation Act (NPHA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review under specified circumstances and also streamlined NHPA and NEPA review for larger wireless facilities. The FCC stated that these actions will make a real difference in promoting U.S. leadership in 5G and can cut the costs of deployment by 80%, trim months off deployment timelines, and incentivize thousands of new wireless deployments thus expanding the reach of 5G and other advanced wireless technologies in the U.S.

The FCC concluded that deployment of small wireless facilities by non-Federal entities do not require historic preservation review under NHPA nor environmental review under NEPA because such deployments are neither an “undertaking” (NHPA) nor a “major Federal action” (NEPA). The Second R&O noted that the FCC last considered whether some wireless facilities could be exempt from these requirements in 2004 when virtually all wireless sites were “macro” sites, but that new small cell sites are materially different in size and in their likelihood of impact on surrounding areas. The FCC concluded that conducting such reviews for small wireless sites would result in costs far exceeding benefits and that the burden would grow exponentially as ever-increasing numbers of small wireless facilities are deployed.

Here is the newly amended FCC rule that specifies the conditions for exclusion from NHPA and NEPA review for small wireless facilities:

Section 1.1312(e): Paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section shall not apply:

  1. to the construction of mobile stations; or
  2. where the deployment of facilities meets the following conditions:

(i)  The facilities are mounted on structures 50 feet or less in height including their antennas as defined in § 1.1320(d), or the facilities are mounted on structures no more than 10 percent taller than other adjacent structures, or the facilities do not extend existing structures on which they are located to a height of more than 50 feet or by more than 10 percent, whichever is greater;

(ii) Each antenna associated with the deployment, excluding the associated equipment (as defined in the definition of antenna in § 1.1320(d)), is no more than three cubic feet in volume;

(iii) All other wireless equipment associated with the structure, including the wireless equipment associated with the antenna and any pre-existing associated equipment on the structure, is no more than 28 cubic feet in volume;

(iv) The facilities do not require antenna structure registration under Part 17 of this chapter;

(v) The facilities are not located on Tribal lands, as defined under 36 CFR § 800.16(x); and

(vi) The facilities do not result in human exposure to radiofrequency radiation in excess of the applicable safety standards specified in § 1.1307(b).

These changes were adopted by the FCC on a 3-2 vote. The changes go into effect on July 2, 2018.

Part 2 will address the actions of the FCC to streamline its environmental review process for larger wireless facilities.

 

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This third entry on the FCC’s ongoing review of RF exposure limits highlights the Notice of Inquiry that focuses on possible changes to the current RF exposure limits.

The NOI reiterates that the current exposure limits were adopted in 1996 and while expressing confidence in these limits, the NOI observes that intervening research studies, the ubiquity of device adoption, advances in technology, and developments in international standards support updating the record on RF exposure limits. Accordingly, the NOI seeks comment on whether the current exposure limits should be changed, and the costs and benefits of any suggested changes. The FCC explains its “intent is to adequately protect the public without imposing an undue burden on industry.” It adds that its goal “is to open a science-based examination of the efficacy, currency, and adequacy of the Commission’s exposure limits for RF electromagnetic fields.”

The tenor of the NOI is that, while safety concerns regarding the exposure limits have not been scientifically substantiated, there is extensive research and standards bodies activity on many aspects related to RF exposure.  These include partial-body and whole-body averaging of exposure; averaging area for power density; averaging time for limits; among others. The FCC must review a vast array of technical studies and information compiled since the adoption of the current limits as the agency considers whether and how to proceed. The views of other federal agencies with health and safety expertise will be particularly important to the FCC in this process.

Specific issues raised in the NOI may categorized as follows:

Exposure Limits. Issues of interest to the FCC include partial-body and whole-body averaging of exposure; averaging area and averaging time considerations; whether there should be peak pulsed field limits and/or limits on contact RF currents; whether the frequency range for FCC limits should be broadened from the current 100 kHz-100 GHz range; and conductive implanted objects.

Consumer Information. The FCC notes that it makes a variety of information on RF electromagnetic fields available to the public, but it seeks comment on whether it should make additional information available. If so, what form would be most useful to the public. It also asks whether it should require that more information be made available in equipment manuals, at point-of-sale, or on websites.

Exposure Reduction Policies. The FCC asks whether, in addition to its current “conservative, bright line limit[s]”, it should consider a general technical approach to reduce exposure below its limits in some situations, requesting  comment on cost-benefit and other trade-offs of such an approach and that interested parties specify the specific circumstances, tangible benefits, and impact on the cost and performance of  such an approach.

Evaluation. The FCC defines evaluation as “the determination of compliance with its exposure limits by measurement or computation.” The FCC requests comment on the pros and cons of measurement versus computation and variants thereof. In addition, the FCC requests comments on the effectiveness of its SAR and MPE limits in certain situations and whether any of the non-bindings matters in its Knowledge Database (KDB) should be made mandatory.

Portable RF Sources. The FCC notes that, although Supplement C of EOT Bulletin 65 recommends maintaining separation of about one inch during the testing of consumer portable body-worn devices, many radiating devices may be used without any separation from the human body (e.g., Bluetooth headsets). The FCC states that its calculations suggest that some devices may not be compliant with its exposure limits without the use of a spacer to maintain a separation distance when body-worn. It asks for comments on whether it should consider zero spacing or actual contact with the body when testing some devices. 

As this summary discussion demonstrates, the NOI is extremely broad and is important to equipment manufacturers, spectrum licensees, and many classes of RF device users.  It is possible that, after developing an up-to-date record on appropriate exposure levels, the FCC may decide that the current exposure limits remain valid.  The FCC frequently states that the current values are cautious and in many cases, equipment operates below the permitted levels.

On the other hand, if the FCC concludes that changes in the exposure limits are necessary or appropriate, the FCC likely would issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking setting forth the basis for and the details of the changes it proposes.

We believe the FCC’s next action in this proceeding will be adoption of many of the changes it proposed in its FNPRM discussed in the second entry of this three-part series, including some form of the more detailed signage requirements. Those signage changes, if adopted as proposed, will impose tangible costs for many FCC licensees. These include a significant financial impact–the costs of determining where signage is required and obtaining and installing the new signage.   There is also the potential for significant fines from the FCC if licensees do not fully comply with the updated FCC rules.

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Radiofrequency exposure limits and mitigation requirements are an area of special expertise at Keller and Heckman LLP. With our wide-ranging and deep experience in the areas of telecommunications and health and safety, we stand ready to assist you with any questions or concerns about these regulatory requirements. Please feel free to contact the author at Fitch@khlaw.com.

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Part One of this series summarized the FCC’s long-pending proceeding and initial set of decisions on human exposure to radiofrequency (RF) fields. Generally, the more complicated and difficult decisions were deferred.  In light of Chairman Pai’s commitments to Congress, we expect the FCC to resolve at least some of the remaining issues in 2018. Let us now examine areas that are likely up next for decision.

In addition to the decisions in its First Report and Order (R&O), the FCC adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) and Notice of Inquiry (NOI). The FCC summarized the FNPRM as follows:

We are proposing to broadly revise and harmonize the criteria for determining whether single or multiple fixed, mobile, or portable RF sources are subject to routine evaluation for compliance with the RF exposure limits or are exempted from such evaluations.  Additionally, we propose clarifications of evaluation requirements for portable and medical implant devices.  We also propose to adopt specific new requirements for signs and barriers at fixed transmitter sites to ensure compliance with public and occupational exposure limits.  Further, we propose a clarification of the definition of transient exposure for non-workers exposed at levels up to occupational limits.

[We] propose establishing general exemptions from evaluation to determine compliance in place of existing service-specific “categorical exclusions.”  These proposed exemptions involve simple calculations to establish whether any further determination of compliance is necessary. .  .  .  The new, general exemptions would instead apply to all subparts authorizing RF sources. .  .  .  Given the trend toward opportunistic spectrum access to allow services to utilize multiple bands of frequencies with various power limits, inclusion of all services is necessary to better ensure compliance with our exposure limits.

Important proposed changes in the FNPRM include:

  1. Clarified definitions of “power” for consistency throughout the Rules.
  2. Changes to general exemption criteria based on power, distance, and frequencies involved for all services using fixed, mobile, and portable transmitters including implants; elimination of distinctions between different services.
  3. A blanket exemption for single transmitter operations with up to 1 milliwatt (mW) available maximum time-averaged power independent of frequency and service; minimum two-centimeter separation between multiple transmitters operation at up to 1 mW.
  4. For single transmitter operation above 1 mW, requiring routine environmental evaluation above a “sliding scale” of values for minimum distance as a function of wavelength and maximum power as a function of frequency and distance for five frequency ranges from 0.3-100,000 MHz. The FNPRM acknowledges that the formulas used for the sliding scale are based on worst-case calculations but states that they trigger further evaluation, not necessarily a finding of non-compliance with permitted exposure limits.
  5. A multi-step equation to sum the effect of multiple fixed transmissions in proximity to each other and determine whether further evaluation is required.
  6. Additional exemption criteria based primarily on Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) limits for single fixed, mobile, and portable transmitters in the frequency range 300 MHz-6 GHz at distances of 0.5-40 centimeters from a human body and formulas to determine whether additional evaluation is required for multiple portable and multiple portable and mobile transmitters.

The FNPRM also proposes changes regarding mitigation of exposure to RF, stating that “. . . mitigation matters involve post-evaluation procedures to ensure that our exposure limits are not exceeded. Such measures include labels, signs, barriers, occupational training, and enforcement.” Specifically, these proposals include:

  1. Clarification of transient exposure and how to apply exposure limits in controlled environments with respect to averaging time.
  2. Specific new training, access restriction, and signage requirements for fixed transmitter sites with a new four-category system based on an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standard.

There are four-categories of proposed signage requirements.  Signage would be required for Categories 2-4 but optional for Category 1.

Category 1 is exposure up to the General Population (GP) limit. No signage would be required. Green “INFORMATION” signs stating that a transmitting source of RF energy is nearby but compliant with FCC exposure limits would be optional.

Category 2 is exposure above the GP limit and up to the Occupational (O) limit. Signs and access control would be required surrounding the area in which the GP limit is exceeded. Blue “NOTICE” signs would have to be large enough to be visible at the separation distance required to comply with the GP limit. Training would be required for occupational personnel with access to the area. Use of personal RF monitors would be recommended but not required.

Category 3 is exposure above the O limit and up to 10 times the O limit. In addition to the Category 2 mitigation requirements, yellow “CAUTION” signs would be required surrounding the area in which the O limit is exceeded. Transient individuals would not be permitted in the Category 3 area. Use of personal protective gear would be recommended but not required.

Category 4 is exposure to more than 10 times the O limit. In addition to the Category 3 mitigation requirements, orange “WARNING” signs would be required where the O limit could be exceeded by a factor of 10 and red “DANGER” signs would be required wherever immediate and serious injury would occur. If power reduction would not sufficiently protect in the event of human presence considering additional use of optional personal protective equipment, lockout/tagout procedures would have to be followed.

The signage for Categories 2, 3, and 4 would require inclusion of the “radiating antenna” RF energy advisory symbol, an explanation of the RF source, behavior necessary to comply with exposure limits, and contact information for a timely response in addition to the color and key words listed for each category.

The FNPRM states that barriers may not be appropriate for all Category 2 environments and that the FCC continues to support suggested Engineering and Technology (OET) exceptions not to require barriers in remote areas with unlikely public access. The FNPRM also reiterates the principle that licensees cannot rely exclusively on natural barriers for protection unless specifically approved by the FCC on a case-by-case basis. The FCC Enforcement Bureau can require corrective action and impose fines or other sanctions for non-compliance.

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This is the first entry of three regarding the FCC’s ongoing proceeding addressing human exposure to radio-frequency (RF) fields.  Although the FCC proceeding has been pending for some time, Chairman Pai has informed Congress that further action is a Commission priority.  Thus, we expect the FCC to adopt one or more orders in this proceeding in 2018.

Exposure to RF emissions is a persistent concern for segments of the public and some public health and workplace safety advocates.  With ever-increasing consumer adoption of wireless communications including unlicensed operations and in-building Wi-Fi, the emergence of small cells, the Internet of Things (IoT), and 5G implementation, a review of existing rules, largely unchanged for over 20 years, is warranted to consider more current research and studies and to maintain the credibility of the FCC’s regulations regarding RF exposure limits.

The FCC regulations on RF exposure limits impact a wide range of business interests—companies which manufacture equipment, including wireless medical devices, businesses which use radio equipment in their delivery of other goods and services, public safety organizations of all types, and the general public– both as cell phone or other wireless device users and as beneficiaries of countless wireless applications.  Any change in the current RF emission limits could cause significant expense for these groups, especially if there are changes in the limits governing devices having high numbers of consumer adoption—smart phones, tablets and WiFi routers.

The long-pending FCC proceeding addresses a very broad range of issues.  The FCC re-states its confidence in the current exposure limits adopted in 1996.  However, it acknowledges that intervening research, the ubiquity of device adoption, advances in technology, and developments in international standards warrant a far more current and up-to-date record on these matters.

The current FCC limits differentiate between general public and occupational/controlled exposure limits. The latter apply to personnel with expertise and training regarding RF exposure safety.  For that reason, the exposure levels are higher than for the general public.  In today’s increasingly wireless world, a closer look at exposure levels for the general public appears warranted.

2013 First Report and Order

The current FCC proceeding actually dates back to March 2003, when the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) to “provide more efficient, practical, and consistent application of compliance procedures” relating to rules “to ensure that the public is appropriately protected from any potential adverse effects from RF exposure . . . .”  In March 2013, the FCC adopted a First Report and Order (R&O), Further NPRM, and Notice of Inquiry (NOI).

In the First R&O, the FCC clarified power evaluation procedures and references to determine compliance with FCC limits and made changes to its regulations regarding labeling of RF devices.  Key changes include:

  1. Amending the rules to reference the underlying whole-body and partial-body exposure limits for SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) and to allow evaluation of SAR instead of power density or field strength for demonstrating compliance for fixed and mobile RF sources below 6 GHz.
  2. Maintaining use of maximum permissible exposure (MPE) as a basis for evaluation subject to certain conditions.
  3. Discontinuing Supplement C of OET Bulletin 65, which provided guidance on RF limits for portable and mobile devices because more updated information is available in OET’s “Knowledge Database” (KDB).
  4. Classifying the outer ear (“Pinna”) as an “extremity” and subject to exceptions for localized SAR limits for “extremities.”
  5. Adopting more specific labeling requirements for occupational/controlled exposure to mobile and portable devices. The occupational/controlled limits apply when individuals are “fully aware” and can “exercise control” over exposure.  For these situations there is a two-tiered approach: (1) written and/or verbal information must be provided to an individual that exposure is part of their employment, and (2) appropriate training regarding work practices to ensure awareness and control must be provided.
  6. For fixed sites with multiple transmitters, noting that failure to comply with the rules can result in penalties for all transmitter operators whose systems contribute significantly to the exposure.
  7. Declining to require a new evaluation for existing sites that were excluded from evaluation under its prior evaluation criteria.

The regulated community did not raise significant objections to these rules largely because there were few substantive changes from existing requirements.  The next phases of the proceeding may prove more challenging for device manufacturers and services providers.

Part Two will review the changes proposed by the FCC in its Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.