BLM Proposes Rule to Bolster Broadband Infrastructure and Enhance Power Grid Security on Public Lands
WASHINGTON D.C. – In support of ensuring access to reliable high-speed internet service for every American and enhancing the reliability, security, and resiliency of the electric power grid, the Bureau of Land Management is proposing to update its regulations for the construction and operation of broadband infrastructure on public lands. The proposed rule changes were published today in the Federal Register, opening a public comment period that will run through January 6, 2023.
“Today more than ever, broadband internet access is essential for daily life in America, and we are proud to help deliver it,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, BLM Director. “With this proposed rule, we can help get broadband access to those who need it, while also protecting investments in infrastructure that are critical to our local and national economies.”
With increasing use of cell phones, tablets, video streaming, and smart home equipment, wireless data traffic has grown exponentially in recent years. As demand for broadband connections continues to grow, the BLM is preparing for an increase in the number of applications for new or expanded facilities on public lands, particularly for projects to improve connectivity for rural and Tribal communities. If adopted, the rule changes would make it easier for broadband providers to build new infrastructure on public lands.
The proposed changes to the regulations would also address the risks of wildfire to and from powerlines on BLM-administered lands that comprise the nation’s electric power grid. Hazard trees and other vegetation in powerline rights-of-way can ignite fires or become fuel for those that start elsewhere. Clarifying requirements for managing vegetation within public land rights-of-ways will enhance public safety and help protect investments in infrastructure as well as the resource values of lands in and adjacent to these rights-of-ways.
The BLM is also proposing to update its fee schedule for processing rights-of-way authorizations and the requirements for rights-of-way maintenance plans.
There are approximately 1,500 communications sites on BLM-managed lands, many of which include towers for cellular and wireless services. The BLM also administers 5,000 miles of energy corridors for power transmission (connected to 1,000 miles of similar corridors on U.S. Forest Service lands) that are also compatible with communications uses such as fiber optic and phone lines.
Ensuring that every American has access to reliable high-speed internet service and enhancing the reliability, security, and resiliency of the electric power grid are important priorities of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Joe Biden signed last November.
The law provides $65 billion to expand broadband in communities across the U.S., make broadband service more affordable, and address digital equity and inclusion needs through programs administered by the Department of Commerce. It also highlights the importance of keeping infrastructure resilient to impacts of climate change, including wildfires.
For more information on the proposed changes to the BLM regulations, including how to submit comments, visit https://www.regulations.gov and search "RIN 1004-AE60". For more information about the BLM’s work to put the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to work on public lands, visit https://www.blm.gov/about/laws-and-regulations/infrastructure.
The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 western states, including Alaska, on behalf of the American people. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. Our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.