Permitting Progress: The Time Is Now!

By Karmen Rajamani, Vice President, Government Affairs, WIA

As we wrap up Permitting Month, it is exciting to see the real momentum around permitting reform in the US. There is action at federal, state, and municipal levels aiming to bring reliable, affordable, innovative broadband to all Americans. It feels like we’re all working together to get to this same place: connectivity for all, everywhere.

The pandemic brought focus to many US societal realities and one of these is that broadband connectivity is a necessity in this modern age. The wireless telecommunications industry has irrevocably transformed our quality of life for the better. Moreover, there is so much work in progress to keep the US at the top of wireless communication innovation.

The once-in-a-generation BEAD federal funding program is bringing the reality of US connectivity within grasp. There has been much discussion at all levels of government that permitting processes need to become more predictable, proportionate, and transparent to deploy the critical communications infrastructure needed to connect Americans everywhere. At the federal level, there has been so much action just this year, and it is only April!

  • NTIA issued a list of 30 new NEPA categorical exclusions as applied to BEAD projects this month
  • NTIA amended its rules allowing for easier and faster deployment of communications projects on federal lands and property in March
  • NTIA made mapping publicly available illustrating overlays of federal land management agency jurisdictions
  • The American Broadband Deployment Act (ABDA), H.R. 3557 is currently making its way through the US Congress
  • And hot off the press, yesterday NTIA announced $30 million in new funding for important IT improvements at federal agencies to speed federal permitting, improve data quality, and increase transparency.

States and municipalities have been hard at work streamlining permitting processes to make their communities “broadband ready,” inviting deployment, funding, and critical projects. Some of the flurry of activity can been seen in:

  • Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee, Wisconsin,  and Pennsylvania creating “broadband ready” state and municipal codes. And hundreds of municipalities in these states adopting “broadband ready” codes and permitting processes.
  • Pennsylvania created the PAyback Program where permits and licenses would be issued on time or the applicant receives a refund. As of March 1, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has not issued a single refund.
  • Iowa will reauthorize its existing small cell law providing permitting and siting rules. Missouri and Illinois have small cell reauthorization bills in progress. New Jersey has introduced a small cell bill.

Always a proponent of smart, necessary, and timely permitting, earlier this month WIA issued its Permitting Checklist advocating for

  • Permitting rules consistent with federal law
  • Objective application review criteria
  • Clear, workable design standards
  • Including community comment in developing the permitting framework
  • Fair and proportional fee schedule

This straightforward checklist provides state and local municipalities with guidance to issue much-needed permits while following federal rules and gaining community input.

With all this activity, there is more work to do. As BEAD deployments begin in earnest, there will be a lot states, municipalities, deployment companies, and communities will learn which will in turn create more effective permitting processes in the near future. This is an exciting time to be involved in permitting! Let’s not rest on the progress made but continue to make the US permitting landscape at the federal, state and municipal levels the most predictable, proportionate, and transparent to quickly and cost-effectively bring connectivity everywhere.