Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee marked up 19 bills, including H.R. 3557, the American Broadband Deployment Act of 2023. This bill is of particular interest to local governments because it would codify in statute two relatively recent actions taken by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to preempt local authority over wireless facility siting and cable franchises.
The bill advanced along partisan lines, with Reps. Pallone, Ruiz, Dingell, Matsui, and Tonko offering amendments to eliminate or reduce these preemptions. Those representatives noted the outspoken objections of local government to the bill. The League’s federal partner, the National League of Cities (NLC), along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties (NACO), and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATEO) submitted a letter noting municipal objections to the legislation.
This bill is part of a larger trend in "streamlining" preemption that has taken place in recent years on a wide range of issues, from housing to ridesharing to telecommunications. With the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, permitting streamlining has developed renewed interest from both parties that we need to combat through proactive education about the role of local government oversight in infrastructure deployment.
At this point, it is not expected that H.R. 3557 will be a priority for the floor schedule as a standalone vote. However, another bill that passed the markup with bipartisan support, H.R. 3565, the Spectrum Auction Reauthorization Act of 2023, likely will, and could become a vehicle for problematic amendments. H.R. 3565 would reauthorize the FCC's authority to auction the wireless spectrum, which has been lapsed for most of this year, and authorize using the auction proceeds to support grants to remove banned Chinese network equipment and to support the rollout of Next Generation 911.
Please contact New Jersey members of the House to reiterate the following points:
- Congress should not attach H.R. 3557 or any other preemptive amendment to the FCC spectrum auction reauthorization bill.
- Local governments are just as, if not more, eager as ISPs to have quality broadband infrastructure deployed throughout their communities.
- Local permitting and cable franchising processes are intended to make sure that this infrastructure is deployed in the public interest, that work is done safely, and in a way that protects valuable public resources, including the rights of way. Local governments are the stewards of these finite public resources.
- We have no evidence that heavy-handed preemptive federal mandates, such as harsh permitting shot clocks or restrictions on permitting fee arrangements, or cable franchises, have expedited the deployment of broadband infrastructure.
- It is inappropriate for Congress to apply harsher timelines and restrictions on local governments for these processes than it does on federal agencies.
- Congress should treat local governments as partners in the effort to close the digital divide. That means respecting processes that are best managed at the level of government closest and most responsive to the people.
The League will continue to monitor this issue and will report as warranted.
Contact: Paul Penna, Senior Legislative Analyst, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609-695-3481, x110.