Joint Letter on “Breaking Barriers: Streamlining Permitting to Expedite Broadband Deployment”

Community, Top Issues,

Tomorrow, the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing entitled “Breaking Barriers:  Streamlining Permitting to Expedite Broadband Deployment.”   According to the Committee’s Majority Staff Memo, the hearing will take up more than 30 bills aimed at what are described as ‘Federal Barriers’ and ‘State and Local Government Obstacles’ and ‘Pole Attachments (Access to poles)’ to broadband infrastructure deployment.   

See the hearing memo and a list of bills here.

The Majority Staff pose a set of questions for the hearing: 

  1. What challenges exist at the federal, state, and local levels that delay or burden broadband deployment? 
  2. How can Congress help expedite or streamline the process for broadband deployment? 
  3. Is attaching telecommunications equipment on municipally or cooperatively-owned poles more difficult or expensive than on other poles? 

On behalf of the nation’s counties, cities, towns and villages, the National League of Cities (NLC), United States Conference of Mayors (USCM), National Association of Counties (NACo) and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) have signed a joint letter of response to the Subcommittee stating: 

“As our federal agencies embark on the most ambitious one-time federal investment ever made in broadband infrastructure and adoption through the programs created by COVID relief programs and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, it is critical that we ensure the value of these funds is maximized.   

Local leaders are eager to partner with state and federal agencies to realize our shared goal of affordable, high-quality broadband access for every household, community anchor, and business.  We are committed to assisting Congress in the successful deployment of broadband infrastructure and services throughout this nation, and we stand willing to provide its assistance and support as a resource in this regard.  

Local governments have been partners with both the wireline and wireless industries in local infrastructure deployment successfully through decades of evolving technical deployments.  We continue to be the industries’ partner in bringing about such deployments.  Congress need not act in this area, and certainly not before local government is given the opportunity to show why such actions are both unnecessary and unconstitutional.  

We support legislation to remove barriers to local investment in broadband infrastructure, such as the Community Broadband Act (H.R. 2552).  Residents in every state deserve the opportunity to decide locally whether public investment in or ownership of broadband infrastructure is the right choice for their community. Having these options available ensures that federal, state, and local infrastructure investments promote consumer choice, competition, and innovation. 

Congress and the Constitution have long recognized the property rights of local governments and local governments’ police powers to protect and preserve the safety, well-being and aesthetics of their communities.  Congress has historically recognized these rights in Sections 224, 253 and 332 of the Telecommunications Act.  

As the level of government closest to the people, we oppose heavy-handed federal overreach into local land use, permitting, and franchise negotiation decisions. Many of the bills the Subcommittee will consider during this hearing would preempt or undermine the property rights of local governments and local governments’ police powers to protect and preserve the safety, well-being and aesthetics of their communities, which Congress and the Constitution have long recognized. These authorities are critical to conduct responsible stewardship of public property, protect public safety, and preserve the rights of residents as consumers of broadband services and neighbors to the infrastructure that makes connectivity possible.  We fear the unintended consequence of some of these bills will be to impose costs on local governments, burdens on our taxpayers, interference with public safety and otherwise harm local protections that are the heart of localism without substantively improving broadband deployment.  

We look forward to partnering with the members of the Committee to eliminate the digital divide. The future social and economic success of our communities depends on our collective efforts.”