House Republicans have fleshed out their framework for closing the digital divide with more than two dozen broadband bills, including ones speeding cable franchising decisions, zoning decisions, and making it easier to deploy infrastructure on federal lands.
D.C. is putting on a full court press to get folks connected, including wireless deployment streamlining championed by FCC commissioner Brendan Carr.
While it is unclear how long the pandemic will last given the time it takes to develop a vaccine and the spikes in cases have some states contemplating re-sheltering in place, what is clear is that broadband has been indispensable in keeping people working and getting healthcare and studying, a point the Republicans made in introducing the suite of new bills.
"We must do all that we can to expand access to broadband, bridge the digital divide, and close the homework gap," said House Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Communications Subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio).
The bills are grouped under three headings, with a big focus on deregulation in order to speed deployment by clearing away "red tape." But as with other deregulatory moves by Republicans promoted as COVID-19 necessities--including by the chief Republican, President Donald Trump--Democrats are likely to look at many of them as opportunities to capitalize on the pandemic to drive further deregulation.
Related: Court Vacates FCC Dereg of Cell Tower Site Reviews
For example, one of the bills is The Communities Overregulating Networks Need Economic Competition Today (CONNECT) Act. Another has been christened The Barriers and Regulatory Obstacles Avoids Deployment of Broadband Access and Needs Deregulatory Leadership (BROADBAND Leadership).
But one Republican's overregulation is another Democrat's protection of history or the environment--there is a bill in the package about that, too--and with Democrats controlling the House, the likelihood of many of the bills making it to the President's desk is slim.
The bills are:
Promote New Infrastructure Deployment
1. "The Winning the International Race for Economic Leadership and Expanding Service to Support Leadership (WIRELESS Leadership) Act, led by Rep. Latta (R-Ohio), 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 reasonable amount of time;
2. "The Barriers and Regulatory Obstacles Avoids Deployment of Broadband Access and Needs Deregulatory Leadership (BROADBAND Leadership) Act, led by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), streamlines permitting processes for telecommunications service 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 application in a reasonable amount of time;
3. "The Cable Access for Broadband and Local Economic Leadership (CABLE Leadership) Act, led by Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), would place shot clocks on a cable franchising authority to act on a request for a new franchise to speed up deployment;
4. "The Communities Overregulating Networks Need Economic Competition Today (CONNECT) Act, also led by Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), would promote competition by limiting government-run broadband networks throughout the country;
Incentivize Competition and Consumer Choice by Promoting Collocation and Modifications to Existing Infrastructure
5. "The Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure (SPEED) Act (H.R. 6488), led by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), would reduce federal red tape by exempting broadband facilities from environmental and historic preservation reviews on federal property where a communications facility has already been approved;
6. "The Wireless Broadband Competition and Efficient Deployment Act, led by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), would remove the requirement to prepare an environmental or historic preservation review for collocations of wireless facilities;
7. "The Wireless Resiliency and Flexible Investment Act, led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), would expand eligible facilities requests to include facilities that would improve the resiliency of the communications network and provide a direct benefit to public safety, such as backup power, hardening the tower or structure, or providing more reliable connection capabilities;
8. "The Consumer Access to Broadband for Local Economies and Competition Act (CABLE Competition Act), led by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), would streamline the transfer of a franchise from a franchise authority to a cable operator;
9. "The Cable Transparency Act, led by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), would clarify and make more transparent the terms for a cable franchise;
10. "The Protecting Critical Infrastructure Act, led by Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), would establish a penalty of a 2-year prison term for anyone who willfully or maliciously destroys a communications facility;
Remove Unnecessary or Duplicative Barriers from Environmental and Historical Reviews
11. "The Tribal Interest Maintained for Infrastructure Needing Greater Certainty Act (TIMING Certainty Act), led by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), would provide clarity and certainty for providers to comply with historical regulations and speed up the deployment of wireless infrastructure;
12. "The Brownfields Broadband Deployment Act, led by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), would ensure the deployment of a broadband project entirely within a brownfields site is a category of activities to be excluded from the requirement to prepare an environmental or historic preservation review;
13. "The Coastal Broadband Deployment Act, led by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), would accelerate the deployment of broadband projects entirely within a floodplain;
14. "The Timely Replacement Under Secure and Trusted for Early and Dependable Broadband Networks Act (TRUSTED Broadband Networks Act), led by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), would accelerate the replacement of projects subject to reimbursement under the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019;
15. "The Proportional Reviews for Broadband Deployment Act, led by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), would speed up the deployment of eligible facilities requests, which 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 collocation, removal, or replacement of transmission equipment;
16. "The Wildfire Wireless Resiliency Act, led by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), would speed up the deployment of projects to replace or improve communications facilities after a wildfire;
Allow Broadband Deployment on Federal Lands
17. "The Standard Fees to Expedite Evaluation and Streamlining Act (Standard FEES Act), led by Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), would establish a common fee for processing applications to deploy communications facilities on Federal property;
18. "The Broadband Deployment Streamlining Act, led by Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), would streamline the process to place or modify communications facilities on land under the control of the Department of Interior;
19. "The Enhancing Administrative Reviews for Broadband Deployment Act, led by Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.), would create a study on barriers within the bureaucracy to reviewing communications use authorization requests to deploy on Federal land;
20. "The Expediting Federal Broadband Deployment Reviews Act, led by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), would direct NTIA to lead an interagency strike force to help prioritize reviews for communications use authorization requests to deploy on Federal land;
21. 'The Federal Broadband Deployment in Unserved Areas Act, led by Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), would allow the Department of Interior to view FCC broadband mapping data to show Federal real property that can support communications facilities in unserved areas;
22. "The Deploying Infrastructure with Greater Internet Transactions And Legacy Applications (DIGITAL Applications) Act, led by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), would establish an online portal to accept, process, and dispose of the common form application to deploy a communications facility on Federal real property;
23. The Facilitating the Deployment of Infrastructure with Greater Internet Transactions And Legacy Applications (Facilitating DIGITAL Applications) Act, led by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), would require the NTIA to update Congress on whether the Departments of Interior and Agriculture have established an online portal for the acceptance, processing, and disposal of the common form application to deploy a communications facility on Federal real property;
24. "The Federal Broadband Deployment Tracking Act, led by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), would require NTIA to submit a plan to Congress on tracking the acceptance, processing, and disposal of requests for communications use authorizations on Federal real property;
25. "The Connecting Communities Post Disasters Act, led by Rep. Pete Olson (R-Tex.), would accelerate replacing and improving communications facilities in Presidentially-declared disaster areas;
26. "The Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2019, led by Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), would allow Federal departments to delegate Federal environmental compliance for broadband projects to States and Indian Tribes."
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.
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