Over the course of the past ten days, House lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle have unveiled a flurry of bills which aim to promote broadband deployment by removing barriers to network expansion and by speeding processes for approval of tower placements on federal property.
On Tuesday, January 16, House Communications & Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) announced the first of a series of six bills, authored by various subcommittee members, that support these goals while also addressing the issue of broadband service restoration in federal disaster areas. Included among these bills is the Restoring Economic Strength and Telecommunications Operations by Releasing Expected Dollars (RESTORED) Act. Sponsored by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), the RESTORED Act would allow telecommunications carriers that are eligible for universal service “high cost’ support to receive an advance payment of up to seven months of high-cost funds “to aid in the restoration of services in Presidentially-declared disaster areas.” A related bill sponsored by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), the Connecting Communities Post Disasters Act, would provide carriers in federal disaster areas with a five-year exclusion from environmental and historical reviews of communications facilities “to aid in the replacement and improvements to such facilities.”
To speed broadband deployment on federal property, the Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure Act (H.R. 4842) introduced by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) would “exempt broadband facilities from environmental and historic preservation reviews on federal property that have already granted another communications facility on the same property.” H.R. 4842 would also exempt broadband facilities to be located in public rights-of-way from such review if they will not be “more than 50 feet tall or 10 feet higher than any existing structure in the public right-of-way, whichever is higher.” Mirroring a recent executive order signed by President Trump, the Broadband Deployment Streamlining Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Susan Brooks (R-IN), would (1) require the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to issue regulations within 12 months that would streamline the processing of applications to locate or modify broadband facilities on federal lands, (2) mandate executive agency action on siting requests within 270 days, and (3) require the Government Accountability Office to assess “the accuracy and reliability of data collected for the National Broadband Map.” As Competitive Carriers Association CEO Steve Berry applauded the bills as “concrete steps by Congress to provide all Americans with the benefits mobile broadband connectivity brings,” a spokesman for wireless association CTIA predicted that “the common sense measures in the bills . . . will improve Americans’ access to new and evolving wireless services.”