rural broadband (image by ShutterStock)

White House unwraps broadband strategy

To accelerate the deployment of high-speed broadband and fill connectivity gaps, the Trump administration on Feb. 13 launched the American Broadband Initiative, an effort that aims to streamline permitting policies, lower the cost of wired and wireless build-outs and maximize the impact of federal funding.

More than 20 agencies contributed to the report, which details action plans for agencies along with milestones to address the lack of sufficient broadband in both urban and rural areas. 

Since much broadband development is regulated by states and municipalities, and companies have little incentive to run cable and build towers in areas with few customers, the initiative is focusing on "removing regulatory barriers and expanding opportunities for successful private-sector capital investments," according to the introductory letter signed by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross.

The initiative proposes three "workstreams" that harmonize, coordinate and streamline policies regulations and policies across agencies to encourage the build out of broadband infrastructure:

Streamline permitting. The General Services Administration will develop a common application form all agencies can use for permit requests and will work to speed permit processing. A broadband permitting portal will be created on the BroadbandUSA website.

Leverage federal assets. Network builders and services suppliers will get simplified access to federal land, buildings and assets managed by the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior and Transportation. The Interior Department developed a map showing locations of over 7,000 of its towers on federal lands so service providers can more easily find places to install equipment for broadband expansion.  An inventory of federal assets managed by other agencies will also be assembled and made public.

Maximize the impact of federal funding. USDA is preparing to deploy a new $600 million broadband pilot program to spur private-sector investments in projects that build broadband infrastructure in rural areas lacking connectivity. It will also launch a portal for broadband funding information, improve broadband availability data and engage with private sector, state, local and tribal partners to identify successful funding models and encourage private investment.

Beyond the three workstreams, the report lists several other agency projects contributing to expanded broadband.  Those initiatives support improved educational and training technology, telehealth, precision agriculture and smart cities.

In conjunction with the release of the report, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced it is working with eight states to broaden and update the National Broadband Availability Map. California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia will contribute data. The map, which was initially created in 2011, was decommissioned Dec. 21, 2018, due to age of the data and the underlying technology.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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