Federal council doles out $155M to streamline broadband permitting

With Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) buildouts on the horizon, federal agencies are getting an extra hand with the permitting process.

On Wednesday, the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council unveiled it will allocate nearly $155 million to assist agencies in infrastructure permitting review. For example, the funding will allow agencies to hire permitting experts and acquire “vital tools and resources” so they can review projects in time.

Established in 2015, the Permitting Council oversees the FAST 41 program, which is designed to streamline permitting review for sectors such as broadband, renewable energy generation and transmission.

The $155 million comes from funding allocated in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, through which the council received a total of $350 million to fund its efforts over the course of nine years.

All told, the Inflation Reduction Act appropriated $1 billion total for federal agency permitting activities.

Agencies receiving the Permitting Council’s assistance include the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA), which is overseeing the BEAD program, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development agency, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, among others.

Eric Beightel, the Permitting Council’s executive director, said in the statement the funding will allow the council to “provide targeted support where it is needed most to ensure that we can expeditiously build vital infrastructure that will create jobs, build our clean energy economy and increase U.S. economic competitiveness.”

“With these funds agencies will be equipped like never before to handle the oftentimes heavy workload of permitting review,” he said.

Agencies that receive support are required to periodically share progress and best practices demonstrating how the money is benefitting their permitting processes, environmental review and project timelines.

At Fiber Connect this year, Beightel said while the Permitting Council has little power to influence state governments, it can leverage some of its $350 million to help states and local entities reform their permitting review as well.

Beightel has also met with the NTIA to ensure the council is adequately supporting BEAD needs.

On the legislative side, Congress last month introduced the CLOSE THE GAP Act, designed to help land agencies simplify the permitting process for infrastructure projects on federal land.