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Permitting Progress to Support Internet for All

ByJill Springer, Senior Advisor, Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, NTIA

Streamlining and accelerating the permitting process is critical to implementing the Internet for All initiative.  

Since the passage of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that provided a historic $65 billion investment to expand affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access to everyone in America, we heard from stakeholders that permitting is a significant concern in implementing the program. 

Recently NTIA has taken action to streamline and accelerate the federal permitting process in a number of ways.  

All of our work in this space is centered around avoiding delays and building resources to help grantees navigate the permitting process, while getting everyone in America quickly connected to the Internet.  

NTIA’s Permitting Strategy 

NTIA recognizes that broadband projects continue to face considerable permitting challenges even though their risk of significant environmental impacts is typically lower than many other types of infrastructure projects. Permitting considerations for a project deploying hundreds of miles of fiber include NTIA’s environmental review that consider historic preservation and endangered species, as well as permits to access federal and Tribal lands and state, local, and private resources.  

Broadband projects also share similarities that present an opportunity for more consistent and efficient permitting measures and can benefit from existing environmental analysis where appropriate.  

NTIA is adopting a proactive strategy to streamline and improve broadband permitting across NTIA’s programs and maximize permitting coordination efforts and efficiency with other federal, state, and local agencies. 

NTIA has recently announced several measures to increase predictability in the permitting process and more quickly deploy affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service to everyone in America. 

NTIA Environmental and Historic Preservation Approvals. NTIA continues to improve its environmental and historic preservation review processes to maximize efficiency for grantees.  

  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Streamlining
    • NTIA recently announced that it has established thirty new categorical exclusions and made clear it could use six additional categorical exclusions from the First Responder Network Authority to expedite the NEPA review of projects with minimal potential for environmental effects. 
    • NTIA is adopting FirstNet’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Statements to enable NTIA to take advantage of existing NEPA analyses where applicable to new projects, reducing the review time and effort for projects that are not categorically excluded.
  • Mapping Tools for Early Permitting Identification and Environmental Screening
    • NTIA has developed and released a publicly available mapping application to help recipients plan projects that avoid environmental impacts and identify permitting considerations as early as possible.
  • BEAD NEPA Partnership Strategy
    • For the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEAD), NTIA will partner with eligible entities (states and territories) to maximize NEPA efficiencies.
    • NTIA and eligible entities will leverage existing state- and territory-specific programmatic NEPA analyses and GIS-based screening tools to support environmental planning and encourage low-impact project development.
    • NTIA is providing eligible entities with an enhanced role in the NEPA process to facilitate maximum schedule control.
  • National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) Streamlining
    • At NTIA’s request, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has expanded the availability of streamlined historic preservation rules for communications projects, increasing the predictability and efficiency of these reviews for NTIA and other federal agencies supporting broadband deployments.

Other Federal Agency Approvals. NTIA has established interagency partnerships, developed and distributed permitting tools, and fostered collaboration to improve federal broadband permitting.

  • Interagency Regional permitting meetings
    • NTIA developed a comprehensive contact list of real estate and environmental staff at all federal permitting agencies and held interagency broadband permitting meetings to introduce NTIA Federal and Environmental Program Officers to federal officials from other agencies who will participate in the environmental review and permitting process and initiate collaboration to support Internet for All project permitting.
  • Heat Map tools
    • NTIA provided each federal permitting agency with heat map reports identifying broadband serviceable locations that will require permits on or adjacent to federal lands and offered no-cost National Broadband Availability Map (NBAM) licenses to both agencies and Tribes. These resources assist agencies with planning and budgeting to efficiently process broadband applications.
  • MOUs and programmatic solutions
    • NTIA has collaborated on interagency agreements to coordinate reviews with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Forest Service, and programmatic Essential Fish Habitat conservation measures with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

State, Local, and Private Approvals. NTIA is continuing to identify maximum impact measures to leverage influence and support external stakeholders.

  • Webinars promoting state DOT permitting
    • Fiber in transportation rights of ways will require DOT permits in every state and territory. NTIA held a joint webinar with the Federal Highway Administration in October 2023 that will be offered again on May 21, 2024.
  • Permitting roundtables
    • NTIA’s regional interagency permitting meetings rolled out a plan to establish permitting roundtables to bring federal, state, and local stakeholders together to address project-specific issues in each state.
  • Pole attachments and railroad rights of way
    • NTIA supports solutions to improve access for broadband deployments.

Ultimately, we are making it easier for states and territories to navigate the federal permitting process while maintaining the critical role permitting plays in protecting historic, cultural, and natural resources and the environment. We will continue to prioritize improvements in permitting efficiency as we work to achieve Internet for All.