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Telecommunications Update – SPEED Act: A Quick Solution to a Slow Process

October 25, 2017

SPEED Act – A Quick Solution to a Slow Process

Last week, U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced the SPEED Act of 2017 (Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure).  The purpose of this legislation is to streamline the deployment of broadband and wireless infrastructure in areas that have already been subject to historical or environmental reviews.  According to Sen. Wicker, the SPEED Act “would reduce the barriers to the development of new communications infrastructure in urban and rural communities.”  

The SPEED Act calls for the streamlining of the federal permitting processes that currently impede the speed of deployment of new broadband technologies, including environmental and historical reviews.  Current federal permitting processes are subject to various environmental and SHPO reviews which often take several months to years to review and complete.  Highlights of the Act include:

  1. Excluding communications infrastructure in a covered easement (includes public rights-of-way, easement or lease to, in, over, or on a building or property owned by the Federal Government) from environmental and historic reviews by federal agencies, including the FCC, if previously installed communications infrastructure in the same covered easement have already been granted; 
  2. Exempting the deployment of small cells from environmental and historical reviews if 1) they are deployed in a public ROW and are not substantially higher than any existing structure in the ROW; or 2) they are a replacement for existing small cells and are the same or substantially similar to the small cell being replaced;
  3. Excluding the deployment of wireless service facilities from environmental and historical reviews if 1) the wireless service facilities are located in an existing public ROW and any ground disturbance is limited to the existing public right-of-way; and 2) any proposed antenna tower or support pole is not more than 50 feet tall or 10 feet higher than any existing structure in the public ROW, whichever is higher, and does not have guy wires.

The SPEED Act is not intended to preempt a state or local government’s authority to enforce any applicable zoning or land use regulations on communications providers and does not apply to tribal lands.  Additionally, the FCC must still evaluate radiofrequency exposure guidelines under NEPA.

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly supported the SPEED Act, stating that “this bipartisan effort to ease and accelerate the deployment of broadband technology would put an end to some of the excessive delays industry experiences when siting facilities.”  The Commissioner went on to provide, however, that such legislation reaffirms his belief “that preemption is necessary to prevent unnecessary and costly barriers to small cell deployment.”

Please contact one of the telecommunications specialists at Shulman Rogers if you have any questions regarding the SPEED Act.   


Georgina L.O. Feigen

Alan S. Tilles