President Obama signed an executive order in June facilitating the deployment of broadband infrastructure on federal lands, buildings and rights of way, among other areas, particularly in underserved communities. The federal government has a wealth of possibilities for infrastructure development; it controls nearly 30 percent of all land in this country, owns thousands of buildings and funding for state and local transportation infrastructure, which can be used for broadband infrastructure.
“While broadband infrastructure has been deployed in a vast majority of communities across the country, today too many areas still lack adequate access to this crucial resource,” according to the Order. “For these areas, decisions on access to Federal property and rights of way can be essential to the deployment of both wired and wireless broadband infrastructure.”
The executive order creates the Broadband Deployment on Federal Property Working Group to coordinate the implementation of agency procedures related to access of federal lands, buildings, and rights of way.
U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) applauded President Obama’s move, saying it help his efforts to promote more rapid and cost-effective expansion of broadband networks.
Currently, the procedures for approving broadband infrastructure projects on properties controlled or managed by the federal government vary depending on which agency manages the property. Because of the executive order, agencies that manage federal properties and roads must take specific steps to adopt a uniform approach for allowing broadband carriers to build networks on and through those assets.
“This executive order will help bring broadband to underserved communities across Virginia and the nation while saving both money and time with limited federal investment,” Warner said. “These are commonsense ideas, and I’m pleased the administration is moving forward with this initiative.”
One of Warner’s proposals authorizes the installation of wireless base stations in all publicly accessible federal buildings in order to increase indoor coverage wireless coverage and reduce the load on the macrocellular network.
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, was not as hopeful. In her blog she opined that the president’s goals are out of touch with regulatory realities that stunt telecom infrastructure growth in rural areas.
“There is a big disconnect between the administration’s goals-which are laudable-and what is taking place on the ground and in the regulatory arena,” Bloomfield said.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funding have been returned by NTCA members or will not be drawn down, because of regulatory uncertainty and their potential inability to repay the funds, she said.
“Telcos have not been able to receive RUS funding as the agency waits for new financials. Companies are sitting, waiting to receive approval on USDA broadband loans that have been in the pipeline for months,” she said.