House communications and technology subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) today unveiled a third series of bills offered by subcommittee members and aimed at encouraging broadband deployment. The five bills offered today focus on deployment in disaster areas, supporting innovation, and removing “obstacles to expansion,” such as historical and environmental impact reviews in certain circumstances.
On Tuesday, Chairman Blackburn unveiled three bills aimed at lowering broadband barriers erected by federal agencies in their roles as landlords controlling government-owned lands, buildings, rights-of-way, and other facilities (TR Daily, Jan. 16). The same day, in an op-ed she and full Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R., Ore.) outlined a larger legislative process for encouraging broadband, including a regulatory framework to encourage innovation, the permitting process for federal lands, and funding (TR Daily, Jan. 16).
On Wednesday, she unveiled three bills that focused on “supporting innovation and advancing broadband infrastructure in rural communities.” They dealt with the national broadband map, matching grants for Internet peering centers in unserved or underserved areas, and a study of the role of unlicensed spectrum in managing Internet traffic.
Today’s proposed Restoring Economic Strength and Telecommunications Operations by Releasing Expected Dollars (RESTORED) Act (HR 4832), sponsored by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) would permit companies that are eligible for universal service “high-cost” support to receive an advance payment of up to seven months of support “to aid in the restoration of services in Presidentially-declared disaster areas,” the subcommittee said. Funding could be used for repairs in areas that are “substantially unserved by facilities-based providers of residential fixed voice and broadband service that do not receive high-cost support,” according to the text of the bill.
The proposed Connecting Communities Post Disasters Act (HR 4845), sponsored by Rep. Pete Olson (R., Texas), “would provide a 5-year categorical exclusion from environmental and historical reviews for communications facilities in Presidentially-declared disaster areas to aid the replacement and improvements to such facilities,” the subcommittee said.
The proposed Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure (HR 4842), sponsored by Representative John Shimkus (R., Ill.), would “exempt broadband facilities from environmental and historic preservation reviews on federal property that have already granted another communications facility on the same property,” the subcommittee said.
HR 4842 would also exempt broadband facilities from environmental and historic preservation reviews if they will located within the public right-of-way if they will not be “more than 50 feet tall of 10 feet higher than any existing structure in the public right-of-way, whichever is higher,” according to the text of the bill.
It would exempt facilities that replace “substantially similar” existing facilities; small antennas, as defined by the FCC, that are added to existing facilities; and expansions of the site of an existing facility “not more than 30 feet in any direction.”
The proposed Broadband Deployment Streamlining Act (HR 4847), sponsored by Rep. Susan Brooks (R., Ind.), would “direct the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to issue regulations within 1 year to streamline applications processes to locate or modify communications facilities on public lands,” the subcommittee said.
HR 4847 would amend section 6409 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act “to institute a firm shot clock by which applications must be granted or denied (an application is deemed granted if the agency fails to grant or deny within the allotted time).” It would also require the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the “accuracy and reliability of data collected for the National Broadband Map.”
Rep. Doris Matsui (D., Calif.) co-sponsored HR 4847.
Finally, a resolution sponsored by Rep. Bill Flores (R., Texas) (H.Res. 701) would “express the sense of the House of Representatives that environmental and historic reviews of broadband facilities should be narrowly tailored and proportional to lands that are physically impacted by the deployment of such facilities.”
Competitive Carriers Association President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Berry said, “These legislative efforts are concrete steps by Congress to provide all Americans with the benefits mobile broadband connectivity brings. I’m glad policymakers understand the importance of mobile broadband and support swift consideration by the Committee. All consumers, no matter where they live, work or travel, should have access to robust broadband services, especially in today’s world and consumers’ insatiable demand for ubiquitous service.”
“CTIA applauds the two bills introduced by Representatives Brooks and Matsui and the bill by Rep. Shimkus that enhance and streamline mobile broadband connectivity, including for rural communities,” said Kelly Cole, senior vice president-government affairs for the trade group. “The common sense measures in the bills, including provisions to streamline wireless deployments and improve siting efficiency, will improve Americans access to new and evolving wireless services.” —Lynn Stanton, firstname.lastname@example.org
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