Washington, DC—Today, Representative John Curtis (R-UT), member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, released the following statement after two of his bills were introduced in a comprehensive package of 28 bills that aim to turbocharge public and private investment by promoting new and upgraded infrastructure deployments, boosting competition, streamlining permitting processes, facilitating broadband deployment on federal lands, and closing the digital divide in both rural and urban areas.

“This package, including both of my bills, is a major win for Utah and both urban and rural communities across the country. Broadband access is crucial to education and employment opportunities – and as we’ve seen during the pandemic, is critical to delivering healthcare to those in rural America. Too often duplicative regulations and inefficient practices at federal agencies slows broadband deployment down; the proposals in this package will close the digital gap, bringing all Americans access to the internet.

Specifically, my bills will remove barriers that hinder broadband deployment on Federal lands and delay internet access for neighboring communities. The Federal Broadband Deployment in Unserved Areas Act requires that the FCC share their geospatial data on broadband availability with USDA and DOI and requires that the three work together to identify unserved areas with broadband capability. The Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act will speed up permitting for projects on Federal land by allowing States and Tribes to take on the responsibility of environmental review. Both bills will increase the efficiency of Federal broadband permitting and get internet to Americans sooner.”

Background

Federal Broadband Deployment in Unserved Areas Act

  • The bill would require the FCC to share all mapping data collected under Title VIII of the Communications Act (as added by the bipartisan Broadband DATA Act) with the Department of Interior to integrate broadband availability data into DOI’s Joint Overview-Established Locations (JOEL) database showing Federal property that can support communications facilities.
  • The bill would direct the FCC Chairman and Secretary of Interior to establish a working group within 30 days of enactment to facilitate interoperability of the IT systems used by the FCC and the Department of Interior.
  • The bill would also direct the Chairman of the FCC and Secretary of Interior to jointly submit a report to Congress with a preliminary assessment of any potential barriers to interoperability. In addition, the FCC Chairman and Secretary of Interior are also required to submit a report to congress within 1 year of enactment providing: 
    • 1) an assessment of the effectiveness of a user’s ability to locate Federal property that can support communications facilities in unserved areas through the JOEL database; and, 
    • 2) an assessment of whether the Departments of Interior and Agriculture prioritized the review of applications for a communications use authorization for proposed deployments in unserved areas

Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2021

  • This bill would authorize Federal departments to delegate Federal environmental compliance for broadband projects to States and Indian Tribes. 
  • The bill requires the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior to establish a voluntary program whereby States or Indian Tribes may opt-in to an agreement allowing them to take responsibility of environmental review for the permitting of broadband projects.
  • This bill would also require the designation of a lead agency in the permitting process for projects that cross land management agencies, streamlining the permitting process by creating a single point of contact in the executive branch

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