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Bipartisan Bill Could SPEED Next-Gen Broadband

A bipartisan bill has been introduced that would streamline the deployment of broadband infrastructure in areas that had already been "subjected" to historical or environmental reviews, including by preempting FCC reviews.

The idea is to speed rights-of-way grants and avoid duplicative reviews to pave the way for next-gen broadband, like 5G, say sponsors Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) of the appropriately named Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure Act of 2017 (SPEED Act),

S. 1988.

Specifically, the bill would:

"Exempt telecommunications infrastructure from environmental and historic reviews by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other federal agencies in a public ROW if previously installed telecommunications infrastructure has already undergone environmental and historic reviews for the same public ROW. Any provider exempted from these reviews must still comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act;

"Exempt the deployment of small cells from environmental and historical reviews only if 1) they are being deployed in a public ROW and are not higher than an existing structure in the public ROW; and 2) they are serving as a replacement for an existing small cell and they are the same or substantially similar to the small cell that is being replaced;

"Exempt the deployment of wireless services (e.g. voice, video, or data) from environmental and historical reviews if 1) they are located in an existing public ROW and 2) adhere to tower height and guy wire requirements;

"Direct the Government Accountability Office to develop a report analyzing how to increase the efficiency of deploying broadband infrastructure to federal lands; and

"Direct the FCC’s Streamlining Federal Siting Working Group to submit a report to Congress on its preliminary findings and recommendations for accelerating the deployment of high-speed Internet access to federal lands across the United States."

“New advances in telehealth, online education, precision agriculture, and other internet applications demand faster, better broadband connections," said Wicker. "It is time for the federal government to recognize the realities of a modern digital economy and accommodate the needs of American consumers.”

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has launched a pair of proceedings seeking input on how to speed wired and wireless deployment, including by easing rights of way and tower-siting issues and vetting the impact from delays due to environmental and historical impact studies.

"“The introduction of the SPEED Act by Senators Roger Wicker and Catherine Cortez Masto is a major step forward in the ongoing effort to fix broken federal regulations impacting next-generation wireless deployment," said Sprint. "By modernizing the outdated process inhibiting 5G deployment, this bipartisan legislation will enable better customer wireless experiences while spurring economic growth. We are committed to this legislation’s success and look forward to working with Congress to have the SPEED Act become law.”

“We applaud Senators Wicker and Cortez Masto for their bipartisan leadership in introducing the SPEED Act," said Kelly Cole, SVP for CTIA, the wireless trade association. "This legislation will streamline the federal regulatory review process for wireless infrastructure and pave the way for significant investment in next-generation 5G wireless. Quick passage of this legislation will improve access to jobs, education and healthcare for Americans in rural and urban communities in Mississippi and Nevada, and across the country.”

“AT&T greatly appreciates the efforts of Senators Wicker and Cortez Masto to help facilitate the deployment of broadband infrastructure," said AT&T EVP Tim McKone. "The SPEED Act, which aims to streamline the permitting process on public rights-of-way, will go a long way in removing unnecessary and burdensome hurdles to broadband deployment. We look forward to working with the Senators and their staffs as this important legislation moves through the Committee.”

"Infrastructure is the backbone of mobile networks, and there is no question the current process for deploying mobile broadband is rife with bureaucratic roadblocks and confusing requirements," said Competitive Carriers Association President Steven K. Berry. "A more streamline process will greatly help speed the process of bringing critical mobile broadband services to areas still in-need, for the benefit of consumers and the economy. This legislation is especially important for smaller competitive carriers with limited resources and personnel.”

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