Will the Latest Broadband Deployment Proposal Quash Local Franchise Authority for PEG?

Updated: Jan 24, 2024

An illustration of a city with multiple lines of network connection with a text overlay that reads 'PEG Funds at Risk?'

The American Broadband Deployment Act of 2023 (H.R. 3557) could upend the legal infrastructure in place to protect and maintain PEG channels across the United States. It has not been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives or the Senate, though it was introduced in the House in May and amended by the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which recommended it be passed, in October.

Essentially, in an effort to provide access to high-speed broadband to more than 8 million homes and businesses, the bill is designed to make broadband permitting more efficient for federal, state and local governments. According to the bill, streamlined regulations are “essential to encourage and expedite broadband infrastructure deployment throughout the United States, and ensure federal funding is not wasted due to unnecessary permitting delays or fees.”

By amending the Communications Act of 1934, it would establish “predictable timeframes” for the permit process, as well as cap fees for both “permit application reviews and use of public rights-of-way.” If passed, the legislation would “also exempt certain broadband-deployment projects from environmental and historic preservation reviews.” However, H.R. 3557 also targets cable TV, reforming the franchise process and streamlining the review of new requests for expanded cable systems or new franchises.

Improved government efficiency sounds pretty good, right? Not so fast.

According to the Alliance for Community Media (ACM), the bill eliminates cable franchise renewals, which means state and local governments can no longer “enforce franchise obligations such as build-out, customer service, and local PEG Access channels.” And those obligations include PEG funds.

Further, the legislation allows a cable operator to modify or even terminate a franchise, but “creates no obligation to remove a cable system from rights-of-way.” In other words, cable systems pay no franchise fees but can provide non-cable services (also with no PEG funds).

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) also strongly opposes H.R. 3557. It argued the bill, if signed into law, would “preempt local authority to manage our public rights-of-way and public lands’ use for telecommunications infrastructure. It also preempts local rights of way and franchise authority in a ‘giveaway’ to cable and telecommunications providers.” Last fall, in a joint letter along with the National Association of Counties (NACo), National League of Cities (NLC), and U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), NATOA disputed the proposed legislation’s “heavy-handed federal overreach into local land use, permitting, and franchise negotiation decisions.”

Surprisingly, beyond the impact on PEG channels, H.R. 3557 doesn’t actually require communications companies to provide high-speed broadband to unserved (or underserved) homes and businesses. Further, NATOA argued there is no proof that reducing or eliminating local rights-of-way authority will “unlock lower prices and improve the quality of broadband offerings available in the United States.” Wasn’t that supposed to be the point?

“We hear complaints about government overreach all the time, and H.R. 3557 is a perfect example. This is an instance where a proposed federal law is truly not going to deliver the expected results,” said Steve Israelsky, president of Cablecast Community Media. “In an effort to speed up broadband deployments, the unintended consequences of this legislation could have serious and long-lasting impacts on local communities as well as the PEG channels that serve them.”

Both NATOA and ACM are encouraging PEG channels – as well as local governments – to make their voices are heard by federal lawmakers. Contact your members of Congress and let them know you oppose the H.R. 3557, the American Broadband Deployment Act of 2023.


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