Interior Seeks To Increase Broadband Access In Rural Communities And Reduce Wildfire Risks

Today, the Department of the Interior announced three new actions by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service to aggressively increase broadband internet access in rural communities and reduce wildfire risks. Deputy Secretary Katharine MacGregor made the announcement at the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado.

“High-speed internet connectivity is essential for education, economic opportunity, health and public safety – especially as we continue to respond to the challenges of COVID-19,” said Deputy Secretary MacGregor. “Facilitating greater broadband access and reducing wildfire risks for the benefit of rural and underserved communities is truly a bipartisan issue, and I hope these commonsense rules are carried forward by the incoming administration.”

The BLM has issued a proposed rule that would make it easier for industry to co-locate infrastructure, manage trees to enhance electric reliability, promote public safety and avoid fire hazards. The proposal also seeks to update the BLM’s cost recovery fee schedule for rights-of-way activities and includes definitions of hazard trees and emergency conditions, limits on liability, and agency requirements for reviewing and approving maintenance plans submitted by right-of-way holders. The proposed regulatory amendments complement ongoing efforts to reduce the vulnerability of public lands to wildfires and make it easier for firefighters to access and contain wildfires when they do break out.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed rule will streamline its regulations (50 CFR 29. 21) for permitting of rights-of-way. It will implement the use of a common application form, reduce the amount of documentation required for many types of requests and provide the Service with more flexibility to determine a right-of-way’s fair market value or fair market rental value, thereby reducing an applicant’s time and cost to obtain a right-of-way permit. The bulk of the Service’s right-of-way regulations are more than 40 years old, and these proposed changes would streamline the process.

The National Park Service has amended section, “Telecommunication Sites,” of Management Policies (2006), and section 10.2.2 of Director’s Order #53: Special Park Uses, which require superintendents to only accept applications for telecommunications sites from Federal Communications Commission licensees or agencies regulated by the Department of Commerce through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The change amends this requirement, allowing the NPS to accept applications for communications sites from additional applicants, such as companies who own and operate telecommunications towers. These updates will allow the NPS to work more efficiently in processing rights-of-way permits for telecommunications infrastructure in national parks while continuing to ensure park resources are protected.

The BLM and FWS proposed rules were both delivered to the Federal Register today. Publication in the Federal Register will open a 60-day comment period for each rule, and the respective notice will include information on how to comment.

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