Reps. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., and John Curtis, R-Utah, have introduced the Accelerating Rural Broadband Deployment Act, which would increase internet access in rural America by relaxing government regulations. Sens. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and Steve Daines, R-Mont., introduced a companion bill in April of this year.
If passed, the legislation would require Federal agencies to review broadband infrastructure permits on Federal-rights-of-way within a reasonable time period and establishes a “fair licensing fee” to build broadband infrastructure on Federal land.
The bill would:
- Grant Federal agencies the ability to approve a license of occupancy authorizing the deployment of all equipment required to deploy broadband service on a federal right-of-way.
- Create a 30-year licensing agreement with the opportunity for occupants to automatically renew this license.
- Require each Federal agency to establish licensing fees based on a set of market conditions.
- Require Federal agencies to respond to a broadband permit request within 60-days of receiving the request and provide an explanation of denial if the request is denied.
- Automatically approve permits after 60-days if the agency has not reviewed the application.
Rep. O’Halleran, who serves as co-chair of the Rural Broadband Caucus said that in his home state of Arizona, rural and tribal communities experience some of the slowest and most outdated broadband infrastructures in the nation, which hamstrings their ability to access needed high-speed internet.
“Our bipartisan bill will hold Federal agencies accountable for their part in this problem by ensuring they quickly turn around these applications and get the ball rolling for communities most in need,” he said.
The bill’s cosponsors said the legislation’s “commonsense measures” will “encourage future investments in underserved communities, bolster current broadband services in underserved communities, and successfully close the digital divide in unserved communities.”
The bill has garnered support from broadband industry groups, including USTelecom – The Broadband Association, NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, and NTCA — The Rural Broadband Association.
“We all agree on the need to extend broadband infrastructure deeper into unserved parts of rural America, but too often our network innovators bump into red tape and outdated rules that can make construction slow, inefficient or nearly impossible,” Brandon Heiner, senior vice president of government affairs for USTelecom – The Broadband Association, said. “This is a common sense and bipartisan approach to increase high-speed connectivity from Representatives Curtis and O’Halleran. This plan expedites access to federal rights-of-way and streamlines the building process in service of a universal, bipartisan goal: bring the power and promise of broadband connectivity to every corner of the country.”