[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 3 (Monday, January 6, 2014)]
[Notices]
[Pages 639-642]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-31493]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Telecommunications and Information Administration

 [Docket Number: 131219999-3999-02]
RIN 0660-XC008


First Responder Network Authority; National Environmental Policy 
Act Implementing Procedures and Categorical Exclusions

AGENCY: National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 
U.S. Department of Commerce.

ACTION: Notice, Request for Public Comment.

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SUMMARY: The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) publishes 
this notice to request public comments on proposed categorical 
exclusions (CEs) of actions that FirstNet has determined do not 
individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human 
environment and, thus, should be categorically excluded from the 
requirement to prepare an environmental assessment or environmental 
impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 
4321 et seq. (NEPA).

DATES: Comments on the proposed list categorical exclusions must be 
received by February 5, 2013.

ADDRESSES: The ``Draft FirstNet Administrative Record'' for the 
proposed categorical exclusions is available at: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/category/firstnet. The public is invited to submit 
written comments via email to FirstNetNEPAcomments@ntia.doc.gov or mail 
(to the address listed below). All comments submitted in electronic 
form should be in a standard format such as Word or PDF. All comments 
submitted via mail should include, to the extent available, an 
electronic copy of the submission. However paper copies of comments 
will be accepted. All comments received will be made a part of the 
public record and may be posted to NTIA's Web site (http://www.ntia.doc.gov/category/firstnet) without change. All personally 
identifiable information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by 
the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential 
business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Eli Veenendaal, National 
Telecommunications and Information Administration, U.S. Department of 
Commerce, 1401 Constitution Avenue NW., HCHB Room 4713, Washington, DC 
20230; (202) 482-2188; or eveenendaal@ntia.doc.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

I. National Environmental Policy Act

    The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 321-4347) 
(NEPA) requires federal agencies to undertake an assessment of 
environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making a final 
decision and implementing the action. NEPA requirements apply to any 
federal project, decision or action that may have a significant impact 
on the quality of the human environment. NEPA also establishes the 
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which issued regulations 
implementing the procedural provisions of NEPA. Among other 
considerations, CEQ regulations require federal agencies to adopt their 
own implementing procedures to supplement the Council's regulations, 
and to establish and use ``categorical exclusions'' to define 
categories of actions that do not individually or cumulatively have a 
significant effect on the human environment. Such actions do not 
require preparation of an environmental assessment or an environmental 
impact statement as required by NEPA.
    The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Pub. L. 
No. 112-96, 126 Stat. 156 (2012) (Act) creates and authorizes FirstNet 
to take all actions necessary to ensure that the design, construction, 
and operation of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband 
network (PSBN) based on a single, national network architecture. The 
Act meets a long-standing and critical national infrastructure need, to 
create a single, nationwide interoperable PSBN that will, for the first 
time, allow police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical service 
professionals, and other public safety officials to effectively 
communicate with each other across agencies and jurisdictions.
    As a newly created entity, FirstNet does not have any existing CEs. 
The proposed CEs are necessary to assist FirstNet in applying the 
appropriate level of NEPA review for activities undertaken by FirstNet 
in the design, construction, and operation of the PSBN. Accordingly, 
FirstNet is requesting public comment on the following CEs (as well as 
the administrative records supporting each exclusion) before utilizing 
them as part of its NEPA review process.

II. Development Process for Establishing FirstNet CEs

    FirstNet is responsible for, at a minimum, ensuring nationwide

[[Page 640]]

standards for the use of and access to the network; issuing open, 
transparent, and competitive requests for proposals (RFPs) to build, 
operate, and maintain the network; encouraging these RFPs to leverage, 
to the maximum extent economically desirable, existing commercial 
wireless infrastructure to speed deployment of the network; and 
overseeing contracts with non-federal entities to build, operate, and 
maintain the network.
    Due to the similarity in project activities and scope, FirstNet is 
seeking to establish its CEs based primarily on the existing CEs that 
were approved and applied by NTIA in the implementation of the 
Broadband Technology and Opportunities Program (BTOP); a program that 
provided grant funding for the deployment of broadband infrastructure 
throughout the country. The list of CEs that were developed for the 
BTOP were compiled at the Department of Commerce (DOC) through a joint 
effort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities 
Service (RUS); NTIA; DOC's Energy, Safety, and Environment Division; 
and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The 
BTOP CEs were approved by DOC Office of General Counsel and the 
designated Senior Agency Official for NEPA at NOAA.
    Each proposed BTOP CE was reviewed and deliberated in concept, 
coverage, applicability, and wording by members of the review panel. 
The panel carefully reviewed the Administrative Record on each of the 
CEs to ensure they fulfilled the goal of balancing increased 
administrative efficiency in NEPA compliance with avoidance of 
misinterpretations and misapplications of exclusionary language that 
could lead to non-compliance with NEPA requirements. The review panel 
concurred that the below listed BTOP CEs meet both objectives.
    The proposed FirstNet CEs are currently in use by other agencies 
and are comparable to those applied by NTIA as part of BTOP. 
Specifically, these CEs are comparable because they (1) relate to 
planning, deployment, and construction of broadband infrastructure; (2) 
utilize the same methods and equipment of installing broad 
infrastructure; (3) are not restricted to an environmental setting or 
geographic region of the country; and (4) subject to review for 
extraordinary circumstances.
    NTIA, through BTOP, provided over $4 billion in federal funding to 
233 projects to construct and expand telecommunications infrastructure 
and increase broadband adoption throughout all U.S. states, territories 
and the District of Columbia. BTOP projects were funded in four 
categories. These four categories included (1) Broadband 
Infrastructure--Last Mile; (2) Broadband Infrastructure--Middle Mile; 
(3) Public Computer Centers; and (4) Sustainable Broadband Adoption. 
BTOP infrastructure projects typically required the deployment of 
broadband equipment including the installation of fiber optic cables, 
cell towers, antenna colocations, buildings, and power units. The 
methods used for deploying this equipment varied depending on the 
individual project plan and location but in general followed standard 
commercial approaches for completing such work (e.g., the use of 
trenching and plowing methods construction methods to install buried 
fiber, aerial installation of fiber cables on existing poles, or 
collocating antenna equipment on existing towers). These projects were 
initially required to be complete within three years of the original 
award date and intended to be self-sustaining at the end of the award 
period. The nationwide scope of BTOP resulted in projects being 
implemented in wide range of environmental settings (e.g., varying 
biological, cultural, or socio-economic conditions) each requiring a 
detailed environmental review focusing on the unique characteristics of 
a specific project area and type of proposed project.
    Each BTOP project was individually reviewed for NEPA compliance 
prior to funding. Based on NTIA's review, the CEs below applied to 133 
projects and 100 projects, primarily the infrastructure projects, were 
required to complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) due to the 
potential existence of extraordinary circumstances. Typically, these 
extraordinary circumstance included project implementation activities 
in locations where NTIA could not reasonably determine a project's 
potential effect on environmentally or culturally sensitive resources 
(i.e., project activities occurring on or near endangered habitat or 
species, water resources, historic properties, or tribal country) based 
on its review of an applicant's responses to the environmental 
questionnaire and project descriptions and mapping submitted as part of 
the BTOP application. To date, NTIA has reviewed and adopted 99 EAs and 
issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for each of those 
projects, with the completion and review of one EA still in process. 
When evaluating the effects of the completed projects where an EA was 
prepared and reviewed and a FONSI was issued, NTIA has consistently 
found that the actions resulted in no significant environmental 
impacts.
    FirstNet, similar to BTOP, is mandated to plan and construct 
telecommunication and broadband infrastructure across the United States 
and its territories. The specific activities anticipated to be 
undertaken by FirstNet are comparable to BTOP project implementation 
activities and will primarily include the installation of cables, cell 
tower, antenna colocations, buildings, and power units as defined in 
the following examples:
    (a) Buried Plant/Facilities: The construction of buried outside 
plant facilities generally consists of plowing or trenching cable at a 
depth of approximately 36'' to 48'' alongside the road usually in a 
utility corridor or within public road rights-of-way.
    (b) Aerial Plant/Facilities: The construction of aerial facilities 
is either done by installing new poles and hanging cables on it on 
public rights-of-way or by installing cables using existing poles lines 
from a third party.
    (c) Towers: The construction of towers for cell sites and/or 
microwave dishes. Tower construction is typically done by installing a 
concrete foundation and building the tower on it. The heights of the 
towers vary from 120 feet to 400 feet.
    (d) Co-Locations: The mounting or installation of an antenna on an 
existing tower, building, or structure for the purpose of transmitting 
and/or receiving radio frequency signal for communication purposes.
    (e) Building construction generally consists of installing small 
pre-fabricated shelters on tower sites that are used for housing 
electronic equipment. These shelters are usually placed on concrete 
pads and generally require very minimal disturbance of the land. On an 
extremely rare occasion, the construction of a headquarters and/or 
warehouse building may be necessary. The amount of land disturbance 
resulting from this type of construction can vary depending on the size 
of the proposed building.
    (f) Power Units: The installation of power units, such as an 
uninterruptible power supply (UPS), could be added to existing third 
party tower sites either on the existing concrete pad or by adding a 
new concrete pad if required at the site.
    FirstNet is also required to leverage, to the maximum extent 
economically possible, existing commercial infrastructure in its 
deployment and operation of the PSBN.

[[Page 641]]

    The geographic scope of the PSBN will, like BTOP, encompass all 
U.S. states and territories. Thus, FirstNet actions will likely occur 
in a wide range of environmental settings and require FirstNet to 
establish a process akin to that instituted by BTOP for analyzing 
proposed actions and making NEPA determinations based on the specific 
location and type of proposed project activities of which the proposed 
CEs would be an integral part. Accordingly, because the characteristics 
of the actions in deploying and operating the PSBN are comparable in 
intensity, scope, and geography to BTOP projects and based on the 
outcomes of NTIA applying these CEs to BTOP projects, FirstNet has 
determined that the proposed CEs will not have significant impacts on 
the human environment.

III. Proposed FirstNet Categorical Exclusions

    Certain types of actions undertaken by FirstNet will not normally 
require the completion of an environmental assessment or an 
environmental impact statement. These proposed categorical exclusions 
include:
    A-1: The issuance of bulletins and information publications that do 
not concern environmental matters or substantial facility design, 
construction or maintenance practices. This categorical exclusion is 
supported by long-standing categorical exclusions and administrative 
records. In particular, these include exclusions from the U.S. 
Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department 
of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Coast 
Guard, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. General Administrative Services 
and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
    A-2: Procurement activities related to the day-to-day operation of 
FirstNet including routine procurement of goods and services. This 
categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing categorical 
exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these include 
exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of 
Agriculture, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard, 
U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force.
    A-3: Personnel and Administrative Actions. This categorical 
exclusion is supported by long-standing categorical exclusions and 
administrative records. In particular, these include exclusions from 
the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. 
Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army.
    A-4: Purchase of existing facilities or a portion thereof where use 
or operation will remain unchanged. This categorical exclusion is 
supported by long-standing categorical exclusions and administrative 
records. In particular, these include exclusions from the U.S. 
Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. 
Department of Homeland Security.
    A-5: Internal modifications or equipment additions (e.g., computer 
facilities, relocating interior walls) to structures or buildings. This 
categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing categorical 
exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these include 
exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of 
Agriculture and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
    A-6: Construction of buried and aerial telecommunications lines, 
cables and related facilities. This categorical exclusion is supported 
by long-standing categorical exclusions and administrative records. In 
particular, these include exclusions from the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of the 
Interior and U.S. Department of Energy.
    A-7: Construction of microwave facilities involving no more than 
five acres (2 hectares) of physical disturbance at any single site. 
This categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing categorical 
exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these include 
exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of 
Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy.
    A-8: Construction of cooperative or company headquarters, 
maintenance facilities, or other buildings involving no more than 10 
acres (4 hectares) of physical disturbance or fenced property. In 
particular, these include exclusions from the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Navy and National 
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
    A-9: Changes to existing transmission lines that involve less than 
20 percent pole replacement, or the complete rebuilding of existing 
distribution lines within the same right of way. Changes to existing 
transmission lines that require 20 percent or greater pole replacement 
will be considered the same as new construction. This categorical 
exclusion is supported by long-standing categorical exclusions and 
administrative records. In particular, these include exclusions from 
the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Agriculture and 
U.S. Department of Energy.
    A-10: Changes or additions to existing substations, switching 
stations, telecommunications switching or multiplexing centers, or 
external changes to buildings or small structures requiring one acre 
(0.4 hectare) or more but no more than five acres (2 hectares) of new 
physically disturbed land or fenced property. This categorical 
exclusion is supported by long-standing categorical exclusions and 
administrative records. In particular, these include exclusions from 
the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
    A-11: Construction of substations, switching stations, or 
telecommunications switching or multiplexing centers requiring no more 
than five acres (2 hectares) of new physically disturbed land or fenced 
property. This categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing 
categorical exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these 
include exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. 
Department of Agriculture.
    A-12. Changes or additions to microwave sites, substations, 
switching stations, telecommunications switching or multiplexing 
centers, buildings, or small structures requiring new physical 
disturbance or fencing of less than one acre (0.4 hectare). This 
categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing categorical 
exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these include 
exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of 
Agriculture.
    A-13: Ordinary maintenance or replacement of equipment or small 
structures (e.g., line support structures, line transformers, microwave 
facilities, telecommunications remote switching and multiplexing 
sites). This categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing 
categorical exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these 
include exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. 
Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy.
    A-14: The construction of telecommunications facilities within the 
fenced area of an existing substation, switching station, or within the 
boundaries of an existing electric generating facility site. This 
categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing categorical 
exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these include 
exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of 
Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy.
    A-15: Testing or monitoring work (e.g., soil or rock core sampling, 
monitoring wells, air monitoring). This

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categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing categorical 
exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these include 
exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of 
Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy.
    A-16: Studies and engineering undertaken to define proposed actions 
or alternatives sufficiently so that environmental effects can be 
assessed. This categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing 
categorical exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these 
include exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. 
Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy.
    A-17: Rebuilding of power lines or telecommunications cables where 
road or highway reconstruction requires the applicant to relocate the 
lines either within or adjacent to the new road or highway easement or 
right-of-way. This categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing 
categorical exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these 
include exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. 
Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy.
    A-18: Phase or voltage conversions, reconductoring, or upgrading of 
existing electric Distribution lines, or telecommunication facilities. 
This categorical exclusion is supported by long-standing categorical 
exclusions and administrative records. In particular, these include 
exclusions from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of 
Agriculture and U.S. Department of Energy.
    A-19: Construction of standby diesel electric generators (one 
megawatt or less total capacity) and associated facilities, for the 
primary purpose of providing emergency power, at an existing applicant 
headquarters or district office, telecommunications switching or 
multiplexing site, or at an industrial, commercial or agricultural 
facility served by the applicant. This categorical exclusion is 
supported by long-standing categorical exclusions and administrative 
records. In particular, these include exclusions from the U.S. 
Department of Commerce and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

IV. Paperwork Reduction Act

    The notice does not contain collection-of-information requirements 
subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et 
seq.). Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, no person is 
required to, nor shall a person be subject to penalty for failure to 
comply with, a collection of information subject to the requirements of 
PRA unless that collection of information displays a currently valid 
OMB control number.

    Dated: December 30, 2013.
Stuart Kupinsky,
Chief Counsel, First Responder Network Authority.
[FR Doc. 2013-31493 Filed 1-3-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-60-P