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Republican members of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee last week introduced a series of bills aimed at bolstering broadband networks.

The measures included steps to ease the application process for siting communications equipment on public lands, along with review processes on federal property and in locations designated as disaster areas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and the subcommittee's chairwoman, said the 10 proposals would help establish a consistent framework to grow broadband service, particularly in rural and underserved regions.

"We cannot allow rural America to fall behind," Blackburn and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., wrote in an op-ed introducing the legislation. "Addressing the critical issue of broadband infrastructure will go a long way toward closing the digital divide and bringing economic growth to communities across the country."

One proposal, introduced by Reps. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and Doris Matsui, D-Calif., would order the Interior and Agriculture departments to develop streamlined fee and application processes for projects on public lands and establish a "shot clock" to grant or deny such applications.

Another proposed bill would exempt environmental and historic reviews for existing communications sites on federal property, while others would establish a grant program to expand internet exchange locations and ease construction and service restoration in presidentially declared disaster areas.

Proponents argued that the package of legislation would eliminate some of the barriers preventing investment by broadband providers in remote areas.

The measures coincided with a proposal by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to provide more than $500 million in additional funding to cooperatives and small rural carriers.

"These legislative efforts are concrete steps by Congress to provide all Americans with the benefits mobile broadband connectivity brings," Steven Berry, the president and CEO of wireless group the Competitive Carriers Association, said in a statement. "I’m glad policymakers understand the importance of mobile broadband and support swift consideration by the committee."

 

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