Sinema, Barrasso Introduce Bipartisan Bill Modernizing Permitting Process for Broadband Infrastructure Projects

Sep 21, 2023

Senators’ new CLOSE THE GAP Act streamlines permitting process for broadband infrastructure on federal land

Earlier this year, Sinema announced $1 billion for Arizona high-speed broadband from her bipartisan infrastructure law

WASHINGTON – Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Senator John Barrasso (Wyo.) introduced the Closing Long Overdue Streamlining Encumbrances to Help Expeditiously Generate Approved Permits (CLOSE THE GAP) Act – bipartisan legislation modernizing, streamlining, and improving the permitting process for broadband infrastructure projects on federal land. 

“Streamlining the permitting process for broadband infrastructure allows Arizona to deploy high-speed internet services using historic funding I secured in my bipartisan infrastructure law more efficiently and effectively – connecting loved ones, making education and telehealth more accessible, and fueling economic opportunities for small businesses,” said Senator Sinema.

“Access to fast and reliable internet is critical to keeping rural communities, small businesses and emergency services running smoothly. In Wyoming, half of the land is owned by the federal government. There is a significant gap in internet service and in some cases no service at all,” said Senator Barrasso. “It shouldn’t take years for internet service providers to get approval to install or make simple repairs on federal land. Streamlining the permitting process is a vital step in closing the digital divide in rural communities in Wyoming and across the West.”

Sinema and Barrasso’s CLOSE THE GAP Act improves permitting for broadband projects by ensuring land management agencies promote regulations that streamline the process for broadband applications on federal land for their respective agencies, helping to get the nearly $1 billion in high-speed broadband funding Sinema’s bipartisan infrastructure law recently awarded specifically for Arizona out to the rural and other underserved Arizona communities that need it most. 

The legislation removes broadband projects from the $200 million statutory minimum for tracking under the FAST Act, and insists that communications projects be considered with increased significance when establishing timetables. Additionally, the bipartisan bill establishes a special account at the U.S. Department of Treasury for each land management agency to deposit rental and application fees for their own use related specifically to communications use authorization. It also requires land management agencies to establish a set structure of rental fees and application fees and sets specific requirements for the expenditure of retained funds directly related to activities relating to communications use authorization or communications sites. 

Lastly, the CLOSE THE GAP Act establishes a working group between each Federal land management agency to periodically meet to coordinate and expedite the review of applications. 

Sinema’s bipartisan infrastructure law makes historic and sweeping investments in repairing and upgrading America’s critical infrastructure, including $65 billion to deploy high-speed broadband, expand broadband internet access, and help families afford broadband service.

Specifically, the law invests over $14 billion to make the internet more affordable and requires internet providers to offer a low-cost option to participate in federal broadband deployment funding. Following passage of the infrastructure law, the Federal Communications Commission established the Affordable Connectivity Program using the funding Sinema secured to help Arizonans access affordable internet. The program provides eligible families $30 a month toward their internet bills and $75 a month toward internet service in tribal areas.