Wicker introduces bipartisan bill to speed up deployment of broadband infrastructure

The permitting process for telecommunications equipment would be streamlined so that new broadband internet infrastructure, including 5G wireless technology, could be rolled out faster under legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) on Friday.

The Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure Act of 2017 (SPEED Act), S. 1988, would address duplicative federal approvals for broadband infrastructure, including environmental and historical reviews in areas that had already been subject to reviews in the past. Those duplicative approvals also impact areas that have been established as a public right-of-way (ROW), and where telecommunications infrastructure already exists.

“This sensible legislation would help fast-track the deployment of next-generation broadband technologies by utilizing existing public right of ways and exempting communications providers from duplicative reviews,” Wicker said. “New advances in telehealth, online education, precision agriculture and other internet applications demand faster, better broadband connections.”

Under the SPEED Act, small cells that are shorter than existing infrastructure in a public ROW, and those replacing existing small cells, would also be exempt from reviews. Wireless services located on existing ROWs that adhere to requirements, such as for tower height, also would be exempt.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), who introduced the bipartisan bill with Wicker, said the measure would reduce barriers to new communications infrastructures in rural and urban areas. “And, specifically for our rural communities, we need improved services to eliminate gaps in public safety, expand access to telehealth services and enable more small businesses to connect with their customers,” she said.

The Government Accountability Office would be directed to report on ways to increase broadband infrastructure deployment efficiency on federal lands under the bill, and the Federal Communications Commission’s Streamlining Federal Siting Working Group would be directed to report on preliminary recommendations to speed up the deployment of high-speed internet capabilities on federal lands.

Additionally, the bill would still permit states and local governments to enforce all zoning and other land use regulations on communications providers.

“It is time for the federal government to recognize the realities of a modern digital economy and accommodate the needs of American consumers,” Wicker said.