FCC, Verizon Wireless Settle Probe of NEPA/NHPA Violations

The FCC and Verizon Wireless d/b/a Cellco Partnership settled an investigation of constructed wireless facilities without complying with the Commission’s environmental and historic preservation rules. As part of the settlement, Verizon admits it violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The work concerned building and deploying small cell antennas starting in 2020. The carrier will pay a $950,000 civil penalty.

Verizon says it did so by prematurely constructing wireless facilities before completing the required environmental or historical reviews in Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. The carrier says it also built wireless facilities without onsite monitoring as requested by the affected tribes. 

Covered vendors assessing NEPA or NHPA requirements for Verizon Wireless “must have sufficient experience and expertise to perform assessments in an accurate and timely manner and be able to identify any associated regulatory approvals or monitoring that are required,” says the FCC. The person from each covered vendor responsible for the assessment of NEPA and NHPA requirements for each Verizon Wireless covered facility must possess relevant expertise, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau noted in the Consent Decree. 

The bureau said its investigation revealed that Verizon Wireless started and/or completed construction of the wireless facilities in Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania before or without completing the required Tribal notification. The carrier also failed to comply with Tribal requests to have Tribal onsite monitoring for wireless construction projects in Arizona and Tennessee, according to the bureau.

The Enforcement Bureau said some of the noncompliant construction was caused by miscommunication between Verizon Wireless employees and its third-party contractors. Other violations were caused by a Verizon Wireless employee that reviewed and managed project sites but lacked NEPA/NHPA expertise.

Verizon Wireless told the bureau that it informed the applicable State Historic Preservation Officers and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers of construction projects completed without their required agreement and started removing any wireless facilities determined to have an adverse effect on historic streetscapes. In order to prevent future miscommunication and errors by Verizon Wireless employees, the carrier revised its operational procedures to transition to its third-party vendors with NEPA/NHPA expertise the performance of the initial review of all future project sites subject to the environmental and historic preservation rules.

The FCC said it’s in the public interest to settle the case. It will not hold a hearing on Verizon’s basic qualifications to hold or obtain an FCC license.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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