House Panel Examines Slate of Broadband Initiatives

On January 30, 2018, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on a number of bills ended to speed deployment of broadband to rural and underserved areas.  Many state leaders face the challenge of expanding access to broadband internet, a critical service to link rural citizens with economic and educational opportunities.  It is particularly important to make necessary amendments to the national broadband network now as new technology and additional wireless spectrum become increasingly available. 

The legislation considered by the committee covered a broad array of solutions aimed at streamlining permitting for broadband projects, expanding connectivity to disaster areas, encouraging dig once and climb once constructions projects, and generally expanding access to high speed internet in underserved areas.

Notable bills discussed at this hearing included H.R. 4881, the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018, H.R. 4858, Clearing Local Impediments Makes Broadband Open to New Competition and Enhancements (CLIMB ONCE) Act, and H.R. 4810, the Making Available Plans to Promote Investment in Next Generation Networks without Overbuilding and Waste (MAPPING NOW) Act.  These three bills have potentially significant impact for states looking to expand access to high speed internet. 

H.R. 4881 seeks to require the FCC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a task force to identify gaps in service access for farmers and ranchers. The task force would also develop policy recommendations for expanding both high speed internet service and adoption of that service by farms and ranches. Smart farming has the ability to revolutionize agriculture, as drones, remote sensors, and self-driving vehicles increase the efficiency and efficacy of farms and ranches.

H.R. 4810 directs the Department of Commerce to undertake a national broadband mapping initiative, an authority granted to it in 2009.  One of the challenges of increasing broadband deployment is the lack of information about areas that are unserved or underserved.  The bill aims to ensure that limited infrastructure dollars can be targeted to areas most in need while avoiding duplicative buildouts of internet infrastructure.

H.R. 4858 would clarify that nothing in federal law or regulation prohibits states from adopting a one-touch-make-ready policy, or One Touch. One Touch policies are local and state requirements that require utility pole owners to allow a single crew to make changes to multiple utility wires. One Touch policies can help expeditated deployment and eliminate duplicative construction efforts.

As Congressional leaders look to draft an infrastructure plan in the coming months, broadband legislation like this could be a crucial component of efforts to create a 21st century communications network.  CSG will continue to closely monitor congressional broadband efforts.

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