McMorris Rodgers Announces Plans to Advance Comprehensive Permitting Reform Package to Close the Digital Divide

E&C Subcommittee to Markup 27 Bills, Including Wildfire Wireless Resiliency Act

May 16, 2023
Broadband
Press

Washington, D.C. – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) today continued leading to remove regulatory red tape, deploy broadband faster, get Americans across the country connected, and close the digital divide once and for all. 

As Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, she announced plans for the Communications and Technology Subcommittee to markup a comprehensive permitting reform package of 27 bills to close the digital divide in Eastern Washington and across the United States. The package includes her own Wildfire Wireless Resiliency Act, which would speed up projects to replace or improve wireless communications facilities damaged during a wildfire.

“Access to reliable high-speed broadband services has become a necessary tool in today’s economy. Unfortunately, too many families and businesses in Eastern Washington still lack internet access as a result of outdated maps, a failure to allocate resources to truly unserved areas, or the destruction of critical infrastructure at the hands of a devastating wildfire,” said Rodgers. “We need to remove barriers, streamline the permitting process, and deploy broadband faster and more effectively – especially in the wake of a disaster – while ensuring a record amount of taxpayer money does not go to waste. This package will do that and help close the digital divide once and for all.”

The Wildfire Wireless Resiliency Act creates a categorical exclusion from the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historic Preservation Act that allows for the expedited rebuilding or improving of broadband infrastructure that was damaged or destroyed by a wildfire. This exclusion is specific to damaged infrastructure within areas where the state’s governor has declared a natural disaster, and it applies for up to five years following the declaration.

NOTE: The Communications and Technology Subcommittee markup will take place on Wednesday, May 17.

BACKGROUND: The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) put billions into broadband deployment, including: more than $42 billion dollars for the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program; $1 billion for middle mile infrastructure deployment; an additional $2 billion for deployment on Tribal lands; and $2 billion for rural broadband deployment through the Department of Agriculture. These funds are just a small fraction of the funding appropriated over the past several years that could be used for deploying broadband. Unfortunately, IIJA failed to implement necessary fixes to the cumbersome permitting process, without which all of this funding could be wasted and leave millions without access to broadband services.

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