NTIA Streamlines Environmental Reviews for Broadband Projects

NTIA Streamlines Environmental Reviews for Broadband Projects

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has taken significant steps to streamline environmental reviews for broadband projects.

The NTIA has introduced 30 new categorical exclusions designed to simplify the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews.

Categorical exclusions are specific categories of activities that the NTIA has determined do not significantly affect the environment individually or cumulatively.

Thus, they are excluded from undergoing a detailed environmental assessment or Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

As a result, they will play a crucial role in streamlining the permit approval process, especially as initiatives like the Internet for All programs are set to increase broadband project implementations nationwide.

This is particularly relevant in the administration of the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, which many providers are ignoring due to complicated application processes and rules.

The NTIA’s move also includes the adoption of six additional categorical exclusions from the First Responder Network Authority.

Before the recent news, NTIA used 11 set exclusions from 2009. In March, the Council on Environmental Quality said the new categorical exclusions will “increase NTIA’s efficiency in environmental analysis and decision making while fully meeting NEPA’s requirements.”

NTIA Streamlines Environmental Review for Broadband Projects
NTIA Streamlines Environmental Reviews for Broadband Projects

Some of these Categorical Exclusions of activities from detailed environmental assessment include:

Administrative actions like personnel, fiscal, management, and administrative activities, including recruiting, processing, paying, recordkeeping, budgeting, personnel actions, contract administration, and travel.

  • Administrative tasks include hiring, developing policies, conducting research, performing non-intrusive tests, and standard purchasing safe goods and services.
  • Actions related to real estate and facilities, including upkeep, internal changes or improvements to current buildings, removal of dangerous materials, and specific transactions involving real property.
  • Procedures related to operations, like research within enclosed spaces; outdoor research carried out under all relevant laws, rules, and guidelines; the erection of non-tower structures in areas already developed; the construction of specific types of self-standing wireless communication towers; and the procurement, setting up, rebuilding, maintenance through substitution, and management of overhead or underground utility, communication, and security frameworks.
  • Certain activities related to network expansion are explicitly excluded in the FirstNet Implementing Procedures, such as laying down buried and overhead telecommunication wires and cables, modifications or enhancements to telecommunication service sites, reconstructing or relocating electricity or telecommunication wires because of highway renovations, and establishing mobile communication networks.

With a focus on supporting the Internet for All programs, the NTIA is expected to continue streamlining processes to enable rapid deployment of broadband services, especially in underserved areas.

NTIA has been encouraging innovative approaches to connectivity. Crafting policies that align with evolving technologies and public interests is on the NTIA’s roadmap. These include considerations around privacy, cybersecurity, and digital inclusion.

“Today’s announcement is the third action in as many weeks by NTIA to provide common-sense permitting relief to the Internet for All grantees and sub-grantees and other IIJA initiatives as several funded projects prepare for the construction phase,” the agency stated.

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About the author

Nancy Beverly

Nancy Beverly is a prominent political journalist and editor at World-Wire, known for her sharp analysis and deep understanding of global politics. With a Master's degree in Political Science, she excels in breaking down complex political issues, making them relatable to the public. At World-Wire, Nancy crafts compelling political narratives covering everything from local governance to international relations. Recognized for her expertise, she received the 'Excellence in Political Journalism' award in 2021. Nancy's work not only informs but also enriches her readers' understanding of political dynamics.

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