Broadband-Boosting Bill Draft Circulated

Senate Commerce Committee chair John Thune (R-S.D.) and Communications Subcommittee ranking member Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) have circulated the draft of a bill that would speed the deployment of 5G, just one a host of moves to goose the buildout of high-speed broadband.

The bill would clarify that state and local governments can't restrict access to poles and rights of way except in specific circumstances -- insufficient capacity, safety and reasonable concealment, for example -- according to a copy of the discussion draft. The key to 5G is more widely distributed smaller cells, so there will be more approvals that will need speeding.

It also includes help for cable franchise buildouts and their accompanying broadband component so governments are equal-opportunity broadband facilitators.

The bill would limit state and local governments' ability to impose a "de facto" moratorium on accepting or processing permits, or their ability to make it harder for tech or capacity upgrades, and addresses other "regulations by a state or local government ... that prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of wireless services," according to the draft.

It also imposes a shot clock of 90 days on government decisions regarding various requests. The bill is described as setting up guardrails for speedy deployments rather than imposing limits on governments.

"By modernizing how wireless networks are deployed, this draft bill would help enable the wireless industry to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to win the global race to 5G," said Kelly Cole, SVP for government affairs for CTIA. "We look forward to its quick passage."

The issue is a hot one inside the Beltway, including other legislation, proposed FCC action to speed the process, and a just-released study that says the massive upgrades needed for 5G mobile broadband require government facilitators.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.