H.R. 4824, Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2018
On Wednesday, September 12, 2018, the House will consider H.R. 4824, the Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2018, under suspension of the rules. This bill was introduced on January 18, 2018, by Rep. John Curtis (R-UT), and was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which ordered the bill reported, as amended, by voice vote, on June 6, 2018.
H.R. 4824 requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service to establish a program to enhance the permitting process for broadband Internet projects in each of the agencies’ state or regional offices. The bill also would authorize BLM and the Forest Service to enter into agreements with states and tribes to allow those entities to carry out environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for broadband projects within existing rights-of-way on federal lands.
Approximately 40 percent of rural Americans do not have access to broadband internet. Without adequate and consistent internet access, people are unable to effectively communicate, gain access to vital information services, and increasingly, participate in the workforce. An efficient and effective way to expand broadband to rural areas is through construction of broadband infrastructure in existing rights-of- way (ROW) for linear utilities and roads. However, duplicative federal permitting laws and regulations cause project delays and cost-overruns.
Currently, providers undertaking projects to install broadband infrastructure in existing ROWs may be required to obtain approval from multiple agencies, including the Federal Highway Administration, State Departments of Transportation, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If the infrastructure crosses Indian County, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is also involved. This process can include extensive environmental review, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), even though the ROWs already underwent NEPA analysis. Extensive coordination, agency backlog, and duplicative reviews cause unnecessary delays in permit processing and discourage providers and States from pursuing broadband deployment projects, particularly in rural areas. H.R. 4824, the Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act of 2018, streamlines broadband permitting in ROWs, saving time and money in broadband deployment.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates implementing the bill would cost $1.6 million over the next five years, subject to the availability of appropriated funds.
For questions or further information please contact Ryan Hofmann with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 2-6674.
 See House Report 115-881 at 5.