NTIA aims to streamline National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews for broadband projects via 30 new categorical exclusions. The agency also announced the adoption of six more categorical exclusions from the First Responder Network authority.

Categorical exclusions are actions that a federal agency has determined will not have a significant environmental impact, so they don’t require an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement. Typically, broadband deployment projects have limited, if any, significant environmental impacts, according to NTIA.

The new exclusions could help streamline the environmental approval process at a time when government funding programs will be spurring an increase in broadband deployments nationwide.

Before today’s announcement, NTIA had relied on 11 categorical exclusions that were established in 2009. In March, the Council on Environmental Quality wrote that the new categorical exclusions were intended to “increase NTIA’s efficiency in environmental analysis and decision making while fully meeting NEPA’s requirements.”

Examples of the types of activities potentially excluded from detailed environmental assessment include:

  • Administrative actions like recruiting, policy development, studies, testing that does not cause ground disturbance, and routine procurement of non-hazardous goods and services.
  • Real property and facility actions like maintenance, internal modifications/renovations to existing structures, abatement of hazardous materials, and certain real property transactions.
  • Operational actions, including research within closed facilities; outdoor research activities conducted in compliance with all applicable laws, regulations and requirements; new construction of non-tower structures in previously developed areas; new construction of certain self-supporting wireless communications towers; and acquisition, installation, reconstruction and repair by replacement, and operation of aerial or buried utility, communications and security systems.
  • Certain network deployment activities are categorically excluded under FirstNet Implementing Procedures, including construction of buried and aerial telecommunications lines and cables, changes or additions to sites supporting telecommunication service, rebuilding/relocation of power or telecommunications lines due to highway reconstruction, and deployment of mobile communications networks.

Additional details can be found on the National Environmental Policy Act Procedures and Categorical Exclusions and Adoption of FirstNet Categorical Exclusions under the National Environmental Policy Act web pages.

NTIA seems to be taking broadband provider concerns that the process of applying for federal broadband funding is too complicated, particularly for the $42.5 billion BEAD program. Just last week, the agency said it soon will issue simplified reporting requirements for BEAD grantees.

is promoting further developments through a variety of efforts, encouraging more BEAD applications.

“Today’s announcement is the third action in as many weeks by NTIA to provide common-sense permitting relief to 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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