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Rural Groups: Hatch Broadband Bill Is Right (of) Way to Go

Rural broadband fans are celebrating the introduction on Friday (March 10) of the Highway Rights of Way Permitting Efficiency Act of 2017 (S. 604), which would clear away federal environmental assessments and impact statements from any broadband buildout that otherwise has an "operational" right of way, said one of the groups, WTA-Advocates for Rural Broadband.

It would also give states more authority over reviewing projects with federal rights of way.

That was all fine with the WTA.

“WTA members, small rural telecom providers, face costly and time-consuming barriers to making use of existing rights-of-way on federal lands to build broadband networks," said Derrick Owens, WTA’s VP, government affairs.

"Government should do its due diligence, but it should also work efficiently because every day spent waiting for a permit is one more day rural Americans wait for quality broadband,“ said Derrick Owens, WTA’s Vice President of Government Affairs. “Every dollar spent on duplicative environmental reviews is one less dollar available for investment in a robust broadband network. We look forward to working with the Senator to advance the shared goal of broadband buildout in rural America.”

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association was also embracing the bill, which is co-sponsored by  Sens. Steve Daines (R–Mont.) and Deb Fischer (R–Neb.).

“Small rural telecom operators continue to endure cumbersome and time-consuming permitting processes that hinder the timely deployment of broadband networks in rural America,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “Government at all levels should work collaboratively to expedite placement of infrastructure, and NTCA hopes this bill will help move us toward a more streamlined and harmonized set of permitting processes.”

Speeding permitting and rights of way have been topics of conversation in Washington in the past few weeks, including at an FCC oversight hearing last week in the Senate Commerce Committee. The administration is working on a trillion dollar infrastructure plan that will include broadband, as are Senate Democrats, while FCC chairman Ajit Pai has said that closing the rural broadband divide is a priority, including by speeding deployment by easing permitting and tower siting.