CNCounty News

Counties are partners, not barriers to broadband. It’s time to tell Congress the same

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A common refrain for many is that broadband access is essential to modern life. From remote education and work opportunities to the online delivery of government services and resources, broadband connectivity has proven essential for participating in the modern economy as well as being maximally served by your local government. 

It is therefore critical that counties continue to communicate to Congress that we are most effective as partners to broadband deployment efforts — and not barriers. Recently proposed legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives has sought to up-end the role of local governments in the siting decisions process of both wireless and wireline broadband infrastructure. 

The legislation, The American Broadband Deployment Act of 2023, or H.R. 3557 for short, would enact a series of preemptions which would severely limit the ability of counties to engage in the permitting process, perform land use and zoning reviews and offer sensible feedback for internet service providers on how to deploy their infrastructure in a manner that will protect the public’s interest from a public safety perspective. 

The NACo Telecommunications & Technology Policy Steering Committee has long-adopted language in the NACo American County Platform that supports the preservation of local decision-making authority in the siting decisions of both wireless and wireline telecommunications infrastructure. As such, we encourage members to vote NO on H.R. 3557, and to remind Congress of the numerous ways in which counties have played a role as facilitators for broadband access and services in their communities.   

The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3557 out of the Energy and Commerce Committee on a party-line basis in May, and the bill has since been referred to two additional congressional committees for review. You can learn more about this bill and its provisions, as well as NACo advocacy resources on the issue, on NACo’s website under our Broadband topic page. 

In April 2023, NACo, alongside the National League of Cities (NLC), the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) urged Congress to not consider any legislation that would hamstring the ability of counties to play a role in telecommunications infrastructure-siting decisions. NACo reiterated these concerns in a September 2023 letter to bipartisan congressional leadership. 

The key to closing the digital divide is a partnership approach that brings the public and private sectors together. The digital divide has traditionally existed in areas not deemed economically viable or profitable by the private sector, and thus, a coordinated response to serving these areas will require all actors at the table. Urge your members of Congress to ensure counties can continue to play a role in broadband infrastructure efforts.   

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