Court Rules that FCC Must Follow Federal Laws

WASHINGTON, DC - On Friday, August 9, 2019, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an order issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would have exempted construction of the 5G cellular network from laws that protect Indian sacred sites, cultural resources, and the environment.

In the past, wireless cellular service depended on large towers to transmit signals. The latest generation of wireless service, called 5G, would shift wireless service to smaller but far more densely packed wireless facilities. Although they are called “small cells,” they are in fact more intrusive and have greater impacts because they are far more numerous. These so-called small cells are also not small, since most of them will require entirely new towers be built to position them. The FCC has exclusive control of this entire cellular spectrum.

In order to accelerate the deployment of 5G—to the benefit of some of the world’s wealthiest companies—in March 2018 the FCC issued a new Order that purported to exempt this entire 5G network from review under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). On the books since the 1960s and early 1970s, these laws are meant to protect all Americans’ cultural heritage and environment by ensuring that citizens’ voices could be heard in federal government permitting processes, such as those that ordinarily occur when companies wish to build communi