Government must reduce permitting barriers to broadband deployment, say GOP lawmakers

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) want states and territories to work with their local governments on streamlining permitting processes that could expedite and reduce barriers to broadband deployment across America.

Specifically, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) should address burdensome permitting processes and other regulatory red tape that may impede the success of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, according to a Sept. 30 letter the lawmakers sent to NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson.

“With inflation already raising costs, we cannot afford to waste time and resources on needless bureaucracy when we should be building networks,” wrote Rep. McMorris Rodgers and Sen. Wicker. “Without action, we worry that deployments will take longer and be more expensive, leaving more Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide.” 

The BEAD program was created under the Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act (IIJA), which requires the NTIA to award $42.45 billion to eligible states and territories for broadband deployment. 

In their letter, Rep. McMorris Rodgers and Sen. Wicker praised NTIA’s August-issued Notice of Funding Opportunity for the BEAD program that requires states to identify steps to “reduce costs and barriers to deployment, promote the use of existing infrastructure, promote and adopt dig-once policies, streamlined permitting processes and cost-effective access to poles, conduits, easements, and rights of way.”  

However, they called on the NTIA not only to identify and encourage streamlined permitting but also to require states to enact these streamlined policies and set a high bar for when streamlining is not appropriate. 

“This will ensure broadband projects are carried out in a timely manner, consistent with the [IIJA],” they wrote. “This is an opportunity for our country to close the digital divide, but doing so will require cooperation from state and local governments. Removing unnecessary and costly barriers to deployment is key to the success of the BEAD program.”