WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) introduced legislation to increase access to high-speed internet on federal land.
Permitting for broadband projects and telecommunications infrastructure on federal land can take up to 48 months, causing significant impacts on rural communities. These delays jeopardize broadband projects, increase costs, and limit access to high-speed internet and vital telehealth services.
The CLOSE THE GAP Act will modernize and streamline the permitting process to help expand access to high-speed internet and close the digital divide in rural communities.
“Access to fast and reliable internet is critical to keeping rural communities, small businesses and emergency services running smoothly. In Wyoming, half of the land is owned by the federal government. There is a significant gap in internet service and in some cases no service at all,” said Senator Barrasso. “It shouldn’t take years for internet service providers to get approval to install or make simple repairs on federal land. Streamlining the permitting process is a vital step in closing the digital divide in rural communities in Wyoming and across the West.”
“Streamlining the permitting process for broadband infrastructure allows Arizona to deploy high-speed internet services using historic funding I secured in my bipartisan infrastructure law more efficiently and effectively – connecting loved ones, making education and telehealth more accessible, and fueling economic opportunities for small businesses,” said Senator Sinema.
This legislation has received support from Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, USTelecom, CTIA, Competitive Carriers Association, WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband, The Permitting Institute, T-Mobile, DISH Network, and The Fiber Broadband Association.
“I want to applaud Senator Barrasso and Senator Sinema for their strong leadership and smart set of permitting reforms that would accelerate high-speed Internet builds across rural and remote parts of the country. For too long, a cumbersome and outdated permitting process has delayed and deterred broadband builds on Federal lands—areas where installing Internet infrastructure is vital to reaching those communities that remain on the wrong side of the digital divide. I have had the chance to visit with broadband builders in Wyoming and hear directly from them about the broadband infrastructure projects that are laying fallow due to a slow and opaque process for building on federal lands. This legislation would end these delays by streamlining and modernizing this permitting process. I hope this legislation becomes law soon considering the billions of dollars that are now available to deploy broadband to unserved areas—funds that would otherwise get caught up in red tape.” – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr
In order to streamline the permitting process for broadband infrastructure, The CLOSE THE GAP Act:
• Requires federal land management agencies to issue new regulations that would streamline the process for broadband applications on federal land.
• Promotes online application tracking for broadband infrastructure projects through the existing Permitting Dashboard established under the FAST Act.
• Improves public safety on federal land by directing the establishment of categorical exclusions for improvements to existing infrastructure that would improve public safety capacity.
• Provides exemptions from NEPA for broadband infrastructure that resides on land that has previously received an approved permit to install broadband infrastructure.
• Provides exemptions from NEPA and NHPA requirements for projects that involve collocation of new radios on existing towers, and removal or replacement of radios on existing towers.
• Establishes online portals for submission of Standard Form-299 applications.
• Establishes a special account at Treasury for each land management agency to deposit cost recovery fees for their own use related specifically to broadband deployment.
• Establishes a working group between each federal land management agency to periodically meet to coordinate and expedite the review of applications.
Full text of the legislation can be found here.