Siting Bill Could Waive Environmental Impact Studies in Rural Areas
Siting in rural markets may become easier with the introduction of the “Highway Rights-of-Way Permitting Efficiency Act of 2017” into the U.S. Senate. Sponsored by Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), S. 604 would allow certain state permitting authorities to encourage expansion of broadband service to rural communities.
The measure introduced last Friday afternoon would grant an exclusion from federal environmental assessments and impact statements to any broadband project within an operational right-of-way. The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines (R–MT) and Deb Fischer (R–NE), would allow state governments to enter into an agreement with federal agencies to share all or a portion of the responsibilities of reviewing broadband projects within a federal right-of-way, according toWTA– Advocates for Rural Broadband.
Rural broadband advocates note that small rural telecom providers face costly and time-consuming barriers to using existing rights-of-way on federal lands to build broadband networks. Indeed, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told Senators at last week’s FCC oversight hearing it can take twice as long to site broadband infrastructure on federal lands compared to non-federal lands, Inside Towers reported.
“Every day spent waiting for a permit is one more day rural Americans wait for quality broadband. Every dollar spent on duplicative environmental reviews is one less dollar available for investment in a robust broadband network,” said WTA VP Government Affairs Derrick Owens.
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, supports the measure, too. NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield said: “Government at all levels should work collaboratively to expedite placement of infrastructure, and NTCA hopes this bill will help move us toward a more streamlined and harmonized set of permitting processes.”