Huffman Advocates for Rural Telecommunications Access in Virtual Committee Hearing

June 18, 2020

San Rafael, CA – Today, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands held a legislative hearing to examine Congressman Jared Huffman’s (D-San Rafael) bill, the Public Lands Telecommunications Act. This bill provides federal land management agencies the authority, incentives, and resources to expand telecommunications infrastructure and services on public lands to benefit rural communities and Tribal lands.

Rep. Huffman’s constituent, Connie Stewart, the Executive Director of the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University, joined the hearing as a witness to provide testimony on Huffman’s legislation. The subcommittee is chaired by Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-NM).

Click here to view Rep. Huffman’s opening remarks. A full recording of the hearing can be found here.

A transcript of the Congressman’s remarks can be found below:

“Thank you, Madam Chair, for including my bill H.R. 2611, the Public Lands Telecommunications Act, in today’s hearing and for the opportunity to testify. Thanks also for bringing our great Humboldt County broadband champion, Connie Stewart, in to be a witness on the next panel, we’re thrilled to have her. And let me just take a moment to congratulate Representative Curtis on his bill that I partnered with him on regarding drones and fire safety. It’s a great bill and I appreciate his kind words about this broadband bill as well. Certainly, I promise to continue working closely with you, Mr. Curtis, in a bipartisan way on these issues. And lastly, Mr. Gianforte represents a beautiful part of the world and I do fondly recall those of us that did a CODEL to Yellowstone and had a chance to visit the sites that he spoke of. It’s a really special place, and congratulations, Mr. Gianforte, on that legislation.

“So, my public telecoms bill I believe takes a very innovative approach to broadband deployment by providing federal land management agencies the authority, incentives, and resources to expand telecommunications infrastructure and services in rural communities and Tribal lands.

“And the first point I would make is it’s modeled on proven successes of land use fees, providing fee retention authority for the Interior Department agencies like the BLM, or the National Park Service for rights-of-way and other telecommunications infrastructure use authorizations. The bill would ensure those fees are reinvested to further broadband and telecommunications deployment.

“That means that when a company pays a land management agency, let’s say for a permit to construct a cell tower or a fiber optic cable, that money stays with the agency. It would go toward activities like preparing needs assessments to designate communication sites, maybe developing management plans for communication sites on public lands, or training to manage those sites, expanding connectivity partnerships, etc. With this bill, agencies would finally have an incentive to get out of their silos and think creatively about collaborating and finding win-win broadband partnerships.

“The second part I would emphasize, is that the bill provides cooperative agreement authority. This is a key ingredient to getting our public land managers working with private industry and local communities to expand telecommunications infrastructure and services.

“We’ve got a lot of rural Tribes and communities in my district; many of you on this committee do as well. And you know that it is time to leverage our nation’s public lands managers for investments in telecommunications infrastructure. We know that high speed broadband is only becoming more essential to economic development, education, public safety, and a vibrant quality of life, but nationwide, we also know that one quarter of rural America and about one third of those on Tribal lands lack quality broadband. So, the longer we allow the digital divide to persist, the more Americans are going to be left behind.

“We know the pandemic has given us an even clearer understanding of this. People are staying home from work and trying to do remote learning, remote work, distance telehealth, all sorts of things - but for any of it to work, you need a good internet connection. Our public land managers need this too. They need it for public safety, for enhanced user experiences, and for their own basic communications. And yet I have been frustrated to learn that, for a variety of reasons, they simply never operate out of their own silos. They don’t even partner with sister federal agencies that might be right next door, where they could obviously go in together and have better solutions that meet multiple needs.

“So, if we can break down these silos, I believe our federal public land managers can pursue win-win partnerships with neighboring rural communities, Tribes, private sector partners, and obviously their own sister agencies.  And that’s what the increased authorities, incentives, and resources in this bill do.

“This approach I’m proposing is straight forward, it doesn’t cost the government any money, it is broadly supported by industry, rural communities, and a similar version reported out of this committee with unanimous consent in the last Congress.  

“We may not this of this subcommittee as a place where we do telecommunications, but the truth is we have a great opportunity to right here to do something big and positive for underserved, rural communities on broadband.

“I appreciate the opportunity to testify and again look forward to hearing from my constituent, Connie Stewart, shortly. Thanks very much, Madam Chair, I yield back.”