Huffman, Khanna Reintroduce Public Lands Telecommunications Act

March 08, 2022

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Jared Huffman (CA-02) and Ro Khanna (CA-17) re-introduced the Public Lands Telecommunications Act to unlock new opportunities for responsible broadband infrastructure deployment on and near federal public lands. The legislation builds on proven successes of land use fees and gives public land management agencies the power to act as partners to improve connectivity in rural and remote communities.

“The past two years of teleworking, remote learning, and telehealth visits have highlighted how access to high-speed broadband isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity – but there is still a staggering digital divide between rural and urban America,” said Rep. Huffman. “Fortunately, federal land management agencies can do more to close this gap. With the increased authorities, incentives, and resources outlined in my bill, our land management agencies can help expand broadband access in rural and Tribal communities. This bill will break down silos and provide solutions to make sure rural communities don’t get left behind in the digital age.”

“Broadband connectivity is integral to our nation's economy, bridging the rural divide, and driving innovation. Reliable internet should be available regardless of geography or income. Glad to work with Rep. Huffman to expand responsible broadband infrastructure and bring digital opportunities to communities across the country,” said Rep. Khanna.

“The ability to deploy broadband facilities on Federal lands is absolutely critical to providing service to rural America, and access to public lands continues to be one of the persistent impediments to deployment of ubiquitous wireless connectivity. It only makes sense that fees to do so are limited to actual costs, do not exceed fair market value, and are used by agencies only to support activities related to communications sites on Federal lands,” said Steven K. Berry, Competitive Carriers Association President & CEO. “We appreciate Representative Huffman’s efforts to support deployment on and around Federal lands.”

“Broadband access is an increasingly critical resource for everyday life in the 21st Century, yet the high costs for broadband infrastructure deployment, particularly in rural California, have left many communities unserved or underserved. By increasing funding and resources, this legislation would allow for a much-needed expansion of broadband and telecommunications infrastructure on and near public lands, helping to further reduce the digital divide in California’s rural counties,” said RCRC Board Chair, Nevada County Supervisor Dan Miller.

As of 2020, the federal government found that 22.3% of rural America and 27.7% of those on Tribal land lack access to advanced broadband.

The Public Lands Telecommunications Act would accelerate broadband and telecommunications deployment on and near public lands by:

  • Providing fee retention authority for rights-of-way and other telecommunications infrastructure use authorizations to ensure these funds are reinvested to further broadband and telecommunications deployment;
  • Providing cooperative agreement authority to federal land management agencies for the administration of communications sites to break down funding silos and encourage new federal partnerships.

Rep. Huffman has long been an advocate of broadband expansion on the North Coast. He first introduced this bill in the 115th Congress and has successfully advocated for additional broadband deployment investments in yearly appropriations bills and President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which includes $65 billion to expand broadband in communities across the U.S. During the 115th Congress, Rep. Huffman also introduced the New Deal Rural Broadband Act of 2017, an ambitious plan to connect every American home, business, and school to high-speed, reliable broadband internet that is based on Roosevelt’s New Deal rural electrification model.

The bill is endorsed by NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association, Rural County Representatives of California, and Competitive Carriers Association. Text of the legislation can be found here.