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FCC loosens rules to speed 5G rollouts

There are concerns it might affect the environment.
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Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images

The FCC under Tom Wheeler took early steps to loosen regulations in the name of accelerating 5G rollouts, and the new commission is making good on those plans. The regulator has adopted new rules that scrap certain environmental checks for new cellular and wireless broadband sites. Small facilities on non-native land are no longer subject to reviews under the National Historic Preservation Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. They'll still be bound by local- and state-level rules, but they won't have to wait for the feds to give the all-clear.

The new rules also eliminate the need to submit environmental assessments just because a would-be facility will sit in a floodplain, so long as "certain conditions" are met. FCC officials now have timeframes to act on those environmental assessments, however.

All three Republicans on the commission approved the new rules, while both Democrats voted against it.

The order is likely to please American telecoms racing to launch their 5G networks as quickly as possible and score those all-important bragging rights. It won't have many fans among the eco-conscious, mind you. While large cell sites still have to go through federal review, this reduces the amount of scrutiny over the impact of smaller sites. If regional regulations are relatively light, this could lead to environmental harm.

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