Today, the House of Representatives passed Congressman John Curtis’ bill H.R. 4824, the Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2018. This bill will play a central role in helping rural communities and Native American Tribal governments bridge the digital divide by streamlining the federal permitting process for broadband infrastructure projects.

This is Rep. Curtis’ third bill to be passed by the House since being elected less than a year ago. Senator Orrin Hatch is championing the Senate companion bill.

Watch Congressman Curtis address the House about his bill

“We all agree that improving the deployment of broadband and high-speed Internet in rural America is essential and that’s why this bill is a major victory for Utah.” Curtis added, “By helping our rural communities gain access to high-speed Internet, we can ensure efficiencies for rural schools, hospitals, and for critical economic development opportunities. Above all, we can guarantee that Americans in rural communities have an enhanced quality of life. I am delighted to see this bill move forward and grateful for allies like Senator Hatch that have been championing this important legislation.”

“I’m thrilled to see the House pass this important bill, which wouldn’t have happened without Congressman Curtis’s leadership,” Hatch said. “One of the most efficient ways to close the opportunity and innovation gap between rural and urban communities is to expand broadband infrastructure. This effort is critical to improving education, transportation, public safety, healthcare, and the economy. With access to faster internet, Utah’s businesses can compete with companies across the world.”

This bill is cosponsored by twelve members of Congress and is endorsed by the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Navajo Nation, WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, Utah Education and Telehealth Network, Emery Telecom, The National Grange, Utah Rural Telecom, Grand County City Council, and American Library Association.

The Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act helps rural communities by:
Empowering states and Native American Tribal governments to speed up the process of bringing broadband to rural communities. This bill delegates federal environmental compliance to the States and Tribal governments, allowing them to opt-in to an agreement to take on the responsibility of environmental review.
Making it quicker and cheaper to install broadband. Designates a lead agency in the federal permitting process, regardless of whether a state opts-in to the “State Permitting Authority” agreement; This will consolidate efforts from the executive branch and create a single POC for a given broadband deployment project, intending to drive efficiencies into the permitting process.
Helping economic development in rural communities by helping to bridge the rural-urban digital divide.

STATEMENTS OF SUPPORT

Congressman Paul Gosar, (AZ-04) Chairman of the Western Caucus
The last Presidential election showed us that, more and more, there are two Americas – and rural America feels left behind. Basic services like broadband internet represent the minimum of what is necessary to participate in the 21st century American Dream, but too often rural communities are boxed out of reliable internet access by our own government’s convoluted, crawling approvals process for deploying broadband infrastructure. Congressman Curtis’ Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act solves many of these problems. Rural America deserves to be on equal footing with the rest of the country, and I thank Mr. Curtis for working to bridge that infrastructure gap

Congressman Scott Tipton, (CO-03)
Having access to reliable and fast broadband is critical to the success of every American family, student and small business. Unfortunately, the digital divide between rural and urban America is significant, and we must take action to make sure rural America is keeping up,” said Tipton. “Redundant permitting laws and regulations often hold up broadband projects, especially in rural areas, which in turn discourage providers from pursuing these projects. That’s why I am proud to cosponsor critical legislation that will streamline broadband projects in highway rights-of-way and ultimately increase broadband access across Colorado and the entire country.

Val Hale, Executive Director, Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development [LETTER]
Broadband infrastructure is an important economic development factor, particularly in rural parts of the country. The Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act will help improve coordination between state and federal agencies to speed up access to federal rights-of-way. We anticipate this legislation will make it easier for Utah’s residents and businesses to obtain broadband service and participate in a global economy.

Russell Begaye, Navajo Nation, President [LETTER]
By some estimates, about 40% of the population on the Navajo Nation is without access to wireless services while the national average is about 1.5%… Providing additional broadband infrastructure on the Navajo Nation is the first step to delivering increased access to broadband services to people near the Navajo Nation.

Derrick Owens, Senior Vice President of Government & Industry Affairs, WTA [LETTER]
WTA’s member companies, particular those serving the western portions of the U.S., have to wait significant lengths of time to get approvals to build broadband networks that cross federal lands, even when using existing rights-of-way. We welcome Rep. Curtis’ legislation, which would streamline this process. 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. Every dollar spent on duplicative environmental reviews is one less dollar available for investment in a robust broadband network.

Shirley Bloomfield, Chief Executive Officer, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association [LETTER]
Small rural telecom operators continue to endure cumbersome and time-consuming permitting processes that hinder the timely deployment of broadband networks in rural America. 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.

Dr. Ray J. Timothy, Executive Director and CEO, Utah Education and Telehealth Network [LETTER]
UETN currently has many active projects with Utah’s rural telecommunications broadband providers that require deployment of critical fiber infrastructure in highway rights-of-way (ROW) and crossing federal lands requiring agency permitting to provide services for our education and healthcare stakeholders. The ability to delegate federal environmental compliance to a state agency such as the Utah Department of Transportation would be a critical time-saving and more cost effective way for UETN to accomplish our public-private infrastructure projects for the State of Utah.

Brock Johansen, CEO and General Manager, Emery Telecom [LETTER]
Over the past 10 years, Emery Telecom has constructed hundreds of miles of fiber to serve remote areas of Utah. These lines have greatly assisted in economic development, education, and public safety. The greatest challenge during this construction process has been the permitting issues. With the high percentage of public lands in Utah, and other western states, a more streamlined process needs to be established to assist with permitting across public lands. Emery Telecom strongly supports the Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2018.

Betsy Huber, President, The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry [LETTER]
The National Grange is the country’s oldest general farm, rural public interest and community-focused organization with more than 2,000 local, county, and state chapters. Our members understand the meaning of wide-open spaces and isolated farms, ranches and communities. High speed broadband will open up a whole new world of opportunity for rural America.

Utah Rural Telecom Association [LETTER]
Many of the telecommunications services our members provide cross public lands and require substantial involvement with various federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) and the Forest Service (collectively the “Federal Agencies”) in terms of rights-of-way and permitting. While our members strive to develop a strong working relationship with our federal and state land management agencies, the reality is that the permitting process for deployment of broadband facilities in rural Utah can more often be measured in years, rather than weeks or months. The Utah Rural Telecom Association and its members fully support this Bill and look forward to its passage.

Mary McGann, Chair, Grand County City Council [LETTER]
This will save time and money, driving efficiencies into the current permitting process.