FCC/Verizon Consent Decree Regarding NEPA/NHPA Violations

On December 19, 2022, the FCC released an Order adopting a Consent Decree entered into with Verizon to resolve investigations regarding Verizon’s compliance with the Commission’s Rules (“Environmental Rules”) implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (“NEPA”) and the National Historic Preservation Act (“NHPA”) when deploying small cells.  In connection with the Consent Decree, Verizon agreed to pay a civil penalty to the United States Treasury in the amount of $950,000.

As you may recall, the Commission’s Environmental Rules require wireless providers deploying facilities that may affect the environment to prepare an Environmental Assessment prior to construction that certifies the proposed facility will comply with various NHPA and NEPA requirements.   They also require notification and consultation with Tribes, local governments, and communities.

Beginning in early 2020, Verizon began deploying small cells in a variety of markets in the United States.  Verizon reported to the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) concerns regarding its compliance with the Environmental Rules for certain of its small cell deployments in Pennsylvania.  The matter was referred to the Enforcement Bureau’s Spectrum Enforcement Division (“SED”), which issued a Letter of Inquiry to Verizon regarding Verizon’s compliance with NEPA and NHPA.  SED’s inquiry revealed that Verizon had commenced and/or completed construction of wireless facilities in Indiana, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania prior to or without completing the required environmental review and Tribal notification processes.  Verizon also failed to meet requests by Tribal representatives to have Tribal onsite monitoring of construction during all ground disturbance activity for wireless construction projects in Arizona and Tennessee.  The inquiry further revealed that some of the violations were caused by miscommunication between Verizon and third party contractors, while others were caused by a single employee that reviewed and managed project sites but lacked NEPA/NHPA expertise.

In the Consent Decree, Verizon agrees to enter into a compliance plan to ensure compliance with the Commission’s Environmental Rules, obtain certifications from its vendors and employees that they have complied with the compliance plan, and pay a $950,000 civil penalty to resolve the investigation.

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