The federal government is taking some commonsense steps to reduce cost, complexity and time from rural broadband deployments and, if actions accompany words, it could actually shrink the digital divide.
"Regulatory barriers and cumbersome permitting processes [prevent] too many Americans being excluded from these opportunities simply because they lack access to broadband," wrote Sonny Purdue, secretary of agriculture, and Wilbur Ross, secretary of commerce, in a joint letter to the president of the United States.
About 20 federal agencies already agreed to work together on the American Broadband Initiative, which today published the American Broadband Initiative Milestones Report. Full of details, the 62-page document really can be summed up by three bullet points of the feds' plans:
- One-stop permitting: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will create flowcharts of current permitting workflows for today's most common asset types, then streamline processes and share them on the BroadbandUSA site. In addition, GSA will revise the common application form so it becomes more responsive to stakeholders' needs, and all land-managing agencies will provide GSA with quarterly reports on permitting application rejections and reasons, as well as the time it took before an application was rejected or approved.
- Take these tools: The US Department of Agriculture will prioritize public-private partnerships (P3s) in its $600 million broadband pilot, which will be awarded later this year. This could well become a template for other federal infusions of funds into rural or other unserved areas. Also, agencies want providers to leverage tools that expedite access to monies in priority markets -- such as a map of Department of the Interior-managed land and towers that service providers can use to plan expansions and build-outs.
- Use this space: Stressing the importance of both fixed and wireless broadband, the initiative cites the Department of the Interior (DOI), which inventoried and mapped more than 7,000 tower locations. DOI will make this information publicly available via a mapping tool -- and make the towers themselves available to service providers that want to locate their equipment on federal property in their quest to expand wired and wireless broadband networks.
Currently it takes an average of one year for an agency to complete the communications authorization process, despite the availability of a common application form. In part, that's because not all agencies use or accept this form, preferring their individual division's specific paperwork, according to the report.
"We applaud the measures that are discussed in today’s report for streamlining federal permitting processes and maximizing the impact of federal funding," said Lisa Youngers, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, in an email. "These will help propel the deployment of all-fiber connectivity, especially to rural residents."
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.