House GOP Unveils Deregulatory Broadband Agenda

Capitol Building

House Energy & Commerce Committee Republicans have unveiled a package of 28 broadband-related, primarily deregulatory, bills they said will "turbocharge" investment and promote deployment, competition, and consumer choice while removing "unnecessary or duplicative" environmental and historical preservation "barriers" to that deployment.

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Among other things, the bills would remove or "streamline" a number of environmental and historical site reviews and ease buildouts for cable, wireless and telecoms. Among that streamlining would be dropping any such review requirement for ripping or replacing suspect tech--as the FCC plans to do with tech from Huawei and ZTE on its own initiative as well as under a congressional directive.

The Republicans are in the minority, so only those bills that square with Democrats' view of deploying and speeding and competing will have a chance of making it into law. 

"To make a strong comeback from this pandemic, every House Republican on Energy and Commerce is leading in the Boosting Broadband Connectivity Agenda so America closes the digital divide," said House E&C ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wa.) and Communications Subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio), in a joint statement. "This agenda will get education back on track and promote economic opportunity for all Americans across the entire country.”

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Here, in the order in which the Republicans advertised them, are the bills comprising the Boosting Broadband Connectivity Agenda

1. The Winning the International Race for Economic Leadership and Expanding Service to Support Leadership (WIRELESS Leadership) Act. The bill would "streamline permitting processes for wireless providers by preserving State and local zoning authority subject to reasonable limitations, like shot clocks and cost-based fees, to ensure providers receive an answer on their applications in a timely manner."

The FCC under Republican chairman Ajit Pai had a similar streamlining agenda. 

2. The Barriers and Regulatory Obstacles Avoids Deployment of Broadband Access and Needs Deregulatory Leadership (BROADBAND Leadership) Act. This bill basically applies the above streamlining to telecommunications carriers, hence the different acronym. 

3. The Cable Access for Broadband and Local Economic Leadership (CABLE Leadership) Act would "place shot clocks on a cable franchising authority to act on a request for a new franchise to speed up deployment.

4. The Connecting and Building Lines for Expedited Expansion (CABLE Expansion) Act would be yet another streamlining bill, speeding "permitting processes for cable operators by preserving franchising authority subject to reasonable limitations, like shot clocks, to ensure cable operators receive an answer on applications to upgrade or deploy new facilities in a timely manner."

5. The Communities Overregulating Networks Need Economic Competition Today (CONNECT) Act, a name unlikely to draw Democrat applause, "would promote competition by limiting government-run broadband networks throughout the country and encouraging private investment." While Republicans have regularly argued against government broadband as subsidized overbuilds that often tank, taking tax dollars with them on the way down, Democrats generally view them as new competition for price or service or buildouts where private capital isn't going.

6. "The Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure (SPEED) Act would cut federal "red tape," the Republicans argue by "exempting broadband facilities from burdensome environmental and historic preservation reviews on federal property where a communications facility has already been approved."

7. The Wireless Broadband Competition and Efficient Deployment Act "would remove the requirement to prepare an environmental or historic preservation review in order to add new or upgrade wireless facilities on existing infrastructure."

Democrats are generally wary of cutting environmental and historic preservation reviews.

8. "The Broadband Competition and Efficient Deployment Act would "remove the requirement to prepare an environmental or historic preservation review in order to add new or upgrade wireline facilities."

9. "The Wireless Resiliency and Flexible Investment Act, led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), would expedite the approval process for modifications to existing wireless facilities to make it easier to improve the resiliency of communications network providing a direct benefit to public safety by making it easier to provide backup power or more reliable connection capabilities."

10. The Broadband Resiliency and Flexible Investment Act would "expedite the approval process for modifications to wireline facilities that do not substantially expand the existing footprint, including those that would improve the resiliency of the communication network and provide a direct benefit to public safety, such as backup power, and hardening the facilities, or providing more reliable connection capabilities."

11. "The Consumer Access to Broadband for Local Economies and Competition Act (CABLE Competition Act),  would "streamline the transfer of a franchise from a franchise authority to a cable operator."

12. The Cable Transparency Act "would clarify and make more transparent the terms for a cable franchise.

13. "The Protecting Critical Infrastructure Act "would establish a penalty of a 2-year prison term for anyone who willfully or maliciously destroys a communications facility."

14. The Reducing Antiquated Permitting for Infrastructure Deployment (RAPID) Act "would provide clarity and certainty for providers to comply with historical regulations and speed up the deployment of wireless infrastructure;

15. The Brownfields Broadband Deployment Act "would remove the requirement to prepare an environmental or historic preservation review for the deployment of a broadband project entirely within a brownfields site, which is previously disturbed land."

16. The Coastal Broadband Deployment Act "would remove the requirement to prepare an environmental or historic preservation review for the deployment of broadband projects entirely within a floodplain.

17. The Timely Replacement Under Secure and Trusted for Early and Dependable Broadband Networks Act (TRUSTED Broadband Networks Act) "would remove the requirement to prepare an environmental or historic preservation review for projects to permanently remove and replace equipment in our networks that puts our national security at risk."

18. The Proportional Reviews for Broadband Deployment Act "would speed up the deployment of requests that modify an existing wireless tower or base station that do not substantially change the physical dimensions of the tower or base station that involves the addition, removal, or replacement of transmission equipment."

19. The Wildfire Wireless Resiliency Act "would speed up the deployment of projects to replace or improve communications facilities after a wildfire." 

20. The Standard Fees to Expedite Evaluation and Streamlining Act (Standard FEES Act) "would establish a common fee for processing applications to deploy communications facilities on Federal property."

21. The Enhancing Administrative Reviews for Broadband Deployment Act "would require a study on barriers to reviewing requests within the agencies to deploy broadband infrastructure on Federal land.

22. The Expediting Federal Broadband Deployment Reviews Act "would direct the National Telecommunications & Information Administration [NTIA] to lead an interagency strike force to help prioritize reviews for requests to deploy broadband on Federal land.

23. The Federal Broadband Deployment in Unserved Areas Act "would allow the Department of Interior to integrate FCC broadband mapping data into a platform that shows which Federal property can support communications facilities in an unserved area.

24. "The Deploying Infrastructure with Greater Internet Transactions And Legacy Applications (DIGITAL Applications) Act "would establish an online portal to accept, process, and dispose of the common form application to deploy a communications facility on Federal property."

25. The Facilitating the Deployment of Infrastructure with Greater Internet Transactions And Legacy Applications (Facilitating DIGITAL Applications) Act would require NTIA to update Congress on whether Interior and Agriculture departments had established the portal mandated in the DIGITAL APPLICATIONS Act.

26. The Federal Broadband Deployment Tracking Act "would require NTIA to submit a plan to Congress on tracking the acceptance, processing, and disposal of requests for communications use authorizations on Federal property."

27. "The Connecting Communities Post Disasters Act "would accelerate replacing and improving communications facilities in Presidentially-declared disaster areas."

28. The Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2021 "would allow Federal departments to delegate Federal environmental compliance for broadband projects to States and Indian Tribes."

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.