Houston Mayor Criticizes Pai’s Super Bowl Comments

May 15, 2017–In an unusual request, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D.) wants the FCC “to correct inaccurate statements” that he says FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made when the FCC last month adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking and notice of inquiry to explore ways to remove regulatory barriers on the siting of wireless infrastructure (TR Daily, April 20). The mayor said the Chairman’s comments complaining about roadblocks to beefing up capacity before this year’s Super Bowl were “prejudicial” to Houston.

In his statement on the item, Mr. Pai said wireless companies faced difficulty increasing network capacity before this year’s Super Bowl in Houston, saying that “meeting this commitment was much harder than it should’ve been. For instance, one company ended up paying thousands of dollars per utility pole for purposes of meeting historic preservation requirements. Now, it’s hard to imagine that there is much to preserve, historically speaking, in the parking lot of NRG Stadium. After all, initial construction started in the early 2000s. Yet this company was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in total to complete this review — excessive costs that both delayed construction and were ultimately passed on to consumers.”

In his letter, Mayor Turner said neither Mr. Pai’s statement about a company finding it costly to meet historic preservation requirements nor that it incurred overall expenses of hundreds of thousands of dollars “is true.” He said that the NRG Stadium complex is owned by the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. and isn’t on city property that would be subject to its rights-of-way review fees.

“The County Sports Authority advises that wireless network companies deployed on their property for the Super Bowl at no charge,” he added. “Second, the area around the stadium is not a historic district and the City did not impose historic preservation requirements for wireless infrastructure around the stadium. Third, it is not possible that a wireless network company could have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to Houston to complete a review for use of the right of way because the City charges a flat fee of $111.82 for a plan review application and $80.51 for extra pages of plans. All wireless network companies pay this same published fee.”

Mayor Turner complained that Mr. Pai’s “comments are an inaccurate reflection of Houston’s commitment and effort in ensuring timely deployment leading up to the Super Bowl. Approval and permits for wireless networks were given priority when requested. City staff worked diligently in the months leading up to the Super Bowl to ensure wireless network companies’ needs were addressed and several officials worked closely with the companies to assist them. Houston staff met with the wireless network companies and their contractors at deployment sites to coordinate installations. Reports about wireless network coverage during [the] Super Bowl were described as flawless.”

The mayor concluded, “The Chairman’s allegations are prejudicial to our great City and discount the City’s hard work in hosting this event and preparing for wireless network deployment. We ask that you either provide information regarding the source of the allegations so that we may respond or correct the record to acknowledge the inaccuracy.”

An FCC spokesman declined to comment today on Mayor Turner’s letter, but he said that Mr. Pai’s comment was based on a Sprint Corp. filing that detailed costs the carrier said it incurred due to tribal review of small cell sites across Houston as it worked to expand its capacity before the Super Bowl. In the filing, Sprint said that tribes asked for $7,535 to review each site. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily