Rep. Huffman’s new telecom act heard in committee
Rep. Huffman’s (D-San Rafael) new bill to help connect rural communities to high-speed internet through federal public lands, the Public Lands Telecommunications Act, was heard by the House Committee on Natural Resources on Tuesday.
The bill would allow public land management agencies, like the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service, to partner with private companies and nearby rural communities to expand broadband infrastructure and services.
“With better broadband connections, park visitors could benefit from better interpretive services and improved public safety response, public agencies could practice more efficient land management, and gateway communities could benefit from increased broadband speed and access,” Huffman said after reintroducing the bill last week.
If passed, federal land management agencies would have fee retention authority for rights of way to deploy broadband and eliminate silos (funds kept separate from others of a similar type), according to Huffman’s office.
His office has also pointed out the bill would not affect environmental standards or historical review requirements, promising any broadband deployment would be done responsibly.
After the hearing, Huffman said, “I’m glad that the Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on this important legislation to take concrete action to close the digital divide that is keeping rural America and Indian country from fully participating in the 21st century economy.”
Connie Stewart, executive director of the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University, testified in the committee hearing in favor of the bill: “I would like to thank Congressman Huffman for introducing this important legislation,” Stewart said. “I know this legislation, if enacted, will make a big difference in helping rural communities working on deploying broadband to end the digital divide and I truly believe it will be a relief to federal employees permitting projects in rural communities.”
The Public Lands Telecommunications Act is the second piece of broadband legislation introduced by Huffman this year. The other, the New Deal Rural Broadband Act, co-authored by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), is an effort to give all rural and tribal communities access to reliable broadband by increasing broadband investment.