Transportation and Telecommunications

Proposal for expedited rail crossing permits discussed

A bill heard by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee Feb. 15 would allow the Public Service Commission to issue an expedited rail crossing permit for telecommunications carriers in certain cases.

Sen. Curt Friesen
Sen. Curt Friesen

Under LB1234, sponsored by Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen, a telecommunications carrier could submit a request to the PSC for an expedited wire-crossing permit if a railroad company does not respond to an application made by the carrier within 30 days. The PSC would be responsible for entering an order for an expedited permit within 15 days of receipt of an application.

A wire-crossing permit allows a telecommunications carrier to place a line, wire or cable across a railroad right-of way in a manner that meets the requirements of the Federal Railroad Administration and rail industry standards.

Friesen said the bill wouldn’t affect railroad companies that already process applications in a timely manner, but instead is directed at companies that use delay tactics such as ignoring applications or claiming an application isn’t complete due to minor errors.

Tip O’Neill, president of the Nebraska Telecommunications Association, spoke in support of the bill. Deployment of broadband in rural areas to grant recipients needs to be completed within a time frame established by state and federal programs, O’Neill said, but in many instances projects have been delayed by a lack of response from railroad companies.

“Delays in materials caused by supply chain interruptions and workforce issues exacerbated by COVID-19 are undesirable, but understandable,” he said. “However, projects delayed because of lack of responsiveness to completed applications for crossing rights-of-way of railroads are less understandable and more frustrating.”

Dan Watermeier, chairperson of the PSC, also spoke in support of the proposal, while also suggesting that the commission be given 21 days to order an expedited permit.

“Crossing railroad rights-of-way can be a major stumbling block to getting broadband deployment in a timely fashion,” Watermeier said. “[Telecommunications] carriers are also experiencing delays due to the negotiation required for access to the right-of-way.”

No one testified in opposition to LB1234 and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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