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Expanding Internet Access and Protecting Historic Properties

March 14, 2024

By: Jill Springer, Senior Advisor, Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, NTIA 

Our journey towards providing Internet for All will only succeed if we are able to quickly build high-speed Internet networks and get people the connections they need for doctor’s visits, distance learning, and applying for jobs.  

One important way to meet this moment is to streamline permitting reviews. Internet for All projects are estimated to require hundreds—if not thousands—of historical preservation reviews alone nationwide. 

We’re excited to share that at Assistant Secretary Davidson’s request and following a consultation process and public comment period, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) announced today that it will make a 2017 program comment establishing streamlined historic preservation rules for communications infrastructure projects available to all federal agencies for projects on and off federal lands, immediately benefitting all Internet for All programs. This action will increase the predictability and efficiency of permit application reviews for NTIA and other federal agencies supporting high-speed Internet deployments. 

About the National Historic Preservation Act 

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) establishes a national preservation program and a system of procedural protections, which encourage both the identification and protection of historic resources at the federal level and indirectly at the state and local level. Section 106 of the NHPA establishes a review process to ensure that federal agencies consider the effects of federally licensed, assisted, regulated, or funded activities on historic properties. 

The NHPA also established the ACHP as an independent federal agency advising the President and Congress on historic preservation matters as well advising federal agencies on compliance with Section 106. The ACHP can issue program comments to provide its views on a category of undertakings, in this case, broadband deployments, to replace standard Section 106 review requirements. 

ACHP’s Program Comment for Communications Projects 

In 2017, the ACHP issued a Program Comment for Communications Projects on Federal Lands and Property (Program Comment) to expedite the review of broadband deployments by providing Federal land and property management agencies with a uniform Section 106 review standard tailored to broadband build outs.

The Program Comment was developed over two years of interagency collaboration and draws on the substantial record of broadband reviews during the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, including those of NTIA’s previous Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The Program Comment included streamlined processes to address the potential effects of broadband deployments on historic properties and identifies certain undertakings that require no further Section 106 review under specified conditions. 

What the Updated Program Comment Does and What It Means 

At NTIA’s request, ACHP amended the Program Comment to expand its availability to any federal agency and establish the streamlined Section 106 review standard for all broadband projects in all states and territories – both on and off federal lands.  

As a result, Internet for All funded projects may not require standard Section 106 review if a proposed project area: 

  • Has been previously surveyed and found not to contain historic properties; 
  • Has been previously disturbed to the extent and depth where the probability of finding intact historic properties is low; 
  • Is not considered to have a high probability for historic properties by qualified professionals; or 
  • Meets certain existing conditional exemptions contained in the Program Comment. 

What the Updated Program Comment Doesn’t Do 

The Program Comment explicitly states that proposed projects that would impact national monuments and other historical sites, national historic landmarks, and Tribal lands are still subject to standard Section 106 reviews unless the relevant federal, state, or Tribal authorities are consulted and determine that the procedure outlined in the Program Comment is appropriate. 

Looking Ahead 

Today’s change creates common, universally applicable rules for broadband deployment projects and helps focus Section 106 reviews on the small percentage of projects with potential to adversely affect historic properties. This amendment enhances the efficiency and predictability of the review process and will help more quickly move Internet for All projects into the construction phase while avoiding, minimizing or mitigating potential impacts. We commend the ACHP for considering this update and for acting swiftly and carefully so that grantees with awarded projects can take immediate advantage and more quickly begin connecting unserved and underserved locations across America. 

NTIA is continuing to identify and streamline permitting obstacles while ensuring any new networks are safely installed. We’ll have more on ways we continue to streamline permitting requirements in the coming weeks.