Where Is MOBILE NOW Act Now?

On the first day of 115th Congress Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) reintroduced his MOBILE NOW Act, S.19. MOBILE NOW stands for “Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless.”

The MOBILE NOW Act is intended to increase development of next-generation 5G wireless broadband by ensuring more spectrum is made available for commercial use and by reducing regulatory obstacles associated with building wireless networks. The version introduced by Thune and cosponsored again by the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), closely follows legislation approved by the Commerce Committee by voice vote last Congress.

  1. 9 includes several sections related to wireless infrastructure which are summarized below.


Sec. 7. Communications Facilities Deployments on Federal Property

This section addresses the difficult process of siting communications facilities on federal lands.  It requires federal landholding agencies to use applications developed by the GSA for easements and rights-of-way requests and GSA-developed master contracts for placement of communications facility installations on federal property.  Additionally, the GSA Administrator will establish a fee for the grant of an easement or right-of-way that is based on direct cost recovery.  Further, the fee may be made available, subject to congressional appropriations, to the agency to cover the costs of granting the easement or right-of-way.  Any application submitted under this section must occur within a reasonable time period.  Agencies are also required to provide any applicant for a federal easement or right-of-way a written denial, if applicable.  In addition, the agency must provide a written explanation of any delay longer than five months and designate a point of contact within the agency.  The definition of communications facility installation is expanded under this section to include additional types of wireless, wireline, licensed and unlicensed communications services.


Sec. 8. Dig Once.

This section states that it is the policy of the United States to encourage the deployment of communications facilities and services because of the benefits to interstate commerce from investment in and use of such communications facilities and services.


In addition, this section expresses the sense of Congress that federal agencies should seek to create policy that (1) evaluates and provides for the inclusion of broadband conduit in federally-funded highway constructions projects; (2) provides for such inclusion without negatively impacting the safety, operations, and maintenance of the highway facility, its users, or others; (3) promotes investment and competition by ensuring that communications providers may access such conduit on a nondiscriminatory basis; and (4) limits any burden on state departments of transportation incurred by the inclusion of broadband conduit in such projects.


Sec. 9. National Broadband Facilities Asset Database.

This section requires the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in consultation with the FCC, NTIA, GSA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Office of Management and Budget, to establish and operate a database, not later than June 30, 2018, of federal property capable of supporting the installation of communications facilities.  This section requires a process for withholding data from the database to protect national security and public safety.  OSTP is also required to report to Congress on progress in establishing the database within 180 days of enactment, then annually thereafter until the database is fully operational.


Chairman Thune has expressed his desire to move S. 19 through the Commerce Committee within the next month or so.  If and when it is reported out of Committee, its prospects for Senate floor consideration remain unclear.  At this point, no House companion exists.