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Broadband Permitting Processes Must Change

By June 22, 2023No Comments

To ensure the successful rollout of universal broadband, streamlining the complex web of permitting is critical.

Source: The Fast Mode

By Cheri Beranek

Bridging the digital divide is within our reach. As the federal government gears up to deliver $42.5 billion in Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program funds, unserved Americans in the hardest-to-reach and most expensive-to-build areas will soon gain affordable access to high-speed broadband.

But outdated, overlapping, and redundant permitting processes across the jurisdictions of multiple institutions threaten deployment with delays and prohibitive fees. BEAD funding is on a four-year timeline, and according to Competitive Carriers Association President Steve Berry, the “average time frame for a fiber deployment in rural areas is from five to 10 years.”

These permitting problems have always existed, but with the influx of BEAD funding comes skyrocketing demand that will pile on to existing backlogs and threaten to destroy deployment projects before they can even begin. The time to act is now: Let’s treat this historic investment with the respect it deserves to be successful and invest in breaking down the barriers that could stand in its way.

The complicated web of permitting

The permitting problem affects every region undergoing broadband deployment, and permitting delays cost time and money. While $42.5 billion may seem like a lot, experts have argued it might not be enough. This is especially true if new networks are not built in a timely and cost-efficient manner because of permitting delays.

As providers attempt to deploy broadband in areas that need it, they also need to seek permission to set up those networks. Permit processing varies across the country, and providers often need to coordinate deployment across several agencies—local utilities and local and state governments; crossing federal lands can bring in the Department of Interior and Department of Transportation. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars in permitting fees and delays just to cross a railroad.

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