Federal Permitting Process Slows Rural Broadband Expansion

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Last year, the ConnectWyoming program awarded $10 million in federal CARES Act money to telecommunications provider TCT (originally formed as Tri-County Telephone) for rural broadband expansion with a deadline of December 31, 2020. According to TCT COO Richard Wardell, the company was faced with completing a year’s worth of work in a matter of a few months.

 TCT has made much progress to date, including updates to existing towers, fiber installs and building multiple new 60-foot towers with several 150-foot towers in the queue. “Many of these customers have previously not had any broadband options,” Wardell said. 

However, now the company is facing roadblocks regarding permitting. According to Rocket Miner, President Joe Biden’s 60-day moratorium on federal permitting could cause further delays to an already slow process. 

 Congress did extend the deadline to spend CARES Act money, but the state hasn’t facilitated the extension yet, said Wardell. Still, TCT is proceeding with projects, though it’s experiencing a bottleneck with erecting towers and installing fiber due to permitting.

 Another challenge slowing progress is duplicate examinations. Wardell said that TCT wants to run a fiber line to a current tower to improve speeds. It’s required to go through the archeological process again, even though TCT completed the examination several years ago before the tower was erected. TCT is in mediation with two tribes and the Wyoming State Historical Preservation Office to re-examine the site, reported Rocket Miner.

 “These processes are multifaceted, very complex, and very time consuming,” Wardell said. “What I don’t know for sure is which process [the mediation process with the tribes or Biden’s executive order] will hold it up.”

 Even with the delays, TCT remains hopeful. Rocket Miner reported the company anticipates the towers will be completed by the end of the year.

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