April 29, 2021

Wyden, Markey Introduce GREEN Communications Act to Promote Network Resiliency and Energy Efficiency in Communications Networks

New legislation will protect our communications infrastructure from climate change and natural disasters, including flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires

Washington, DC – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today introduced the Generating Resilient and Energy Efficient Network (GREEN) Communications Act, legislation that will harden our communications networks against climate change and natural disasters, while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint of communications infrastructure.

“Oregonians know first-hand that hardening our communications networks is a life-and-death proposition as supercharged wildfires threaten our communities year after year,” Wyden said. “The Holiday Farm Fire, which devastated Blue River, Oregon, also wiped out cell towers and internet access, leaving the community without reliable access to 911 and vital emergency services for far too long. Senator Markey and I are fighting to ensure that communities get the help they need to stay connected, especially when disaster strikes.”

“A reliable communications network means service that does not disappear when you need it the most,” Markey said. “With climate change and natural disasters posing an ever-growing threat, we must invest the resources required to build resilient networks that can withstand emergency situations. But even while we address these climate risks, we must also reduce the environmental footprint of our communications technology itself. That’s why our GREEN Communications Act tackles both ends of the problem, and why I will fight for this essential legislation as part of any comprehensive infrastructure package. I thank Senator Wyden for his partnership.”

Scientists have projected that sea-level rise will submerge more than 4,000 miles of fiber optic cables within the next 15 years. Increasing extreme weather events – like hurricanes and wildfires – also raise the likelihood of severe outages in our communications networks. At the same time, studies estimate that the information and communications industry produces about two percent of global CO2 emissions – which is approximately the same as the entire aviation industry.

In order to address these overlapping issues, the GREEN Communications Act will create a new program at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which will fund projects to increase the resiliency and energy efficiency of communications networks and infrastructure. In addition, this legislation will instruct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a regulatory resiliency framework designed to minimize the number, length, and impact of future communications network outages.

A copy of the GREEN Communications Act is HERE.

The GREEN Communications Act will specifically:

  • Authorize $5 billion for a new program at NTIA that will provide grants and revolving loans for projects designed to strengthen the resiliency of communications networks and increase the energy efficiency of communications infrastructure
  • Prioritize funding for low-income, rural, and racial or ethnic minority communities, and for projects that demonstrate the greatest overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, benefit the most vulnerable areas, or utilize green solutions to increase resiliency
  • Require recipients of energy efficiency funding to annually report on the electrical consumption – by energy source – of the communications infrastructure that is the subject of their project, as well as develop a comprehensive plan for achieving net-zero carbon emissions from their overall communications infrastructure
  • Require recipients of resiliency funding to participate in the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System, submit new reports on the number and impact of network outages, and develop a comprehensive resiliency plan for protecting their overall communications infrastructure from severe weather, natural disasters, and climate change
  • Direct the FCC to issue rules and establish a regulatory resiliency framework designed to minimize the number, duration, and impact of future communications network outages, as well as help plan for long-term disruptions to communications networks and support the communications needs of first responders
  • Require a variety of studies and reports from relevant federal agencies, including:
    • An FCC study on the feasibility of establishing a map that shows projected risks to communications infrastructure from severe weather, natural disasters, and climate change
    • An annual NTIA report detailing the number of network outages and the latest risks that are attributable to severe weather, natural disasters, and climate change, as well as any shifts in the energy consumption patterns of networks and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from communications infrastructure 

“When disaster strikes, people turn to their communications networks -- critical infrastructure that simply must work to connect communities when making a phone call or using the internet can be a matter of life or death,” said Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge. “We thank Sens. Markey and Wyden for spearheading the Green Communications Act to reduce communications outages during these deadly disasters. Our networks should always function reliably, but especially when it counts.”

“Under the Trump Administration, the federal government was asleep at the wheel as hurricanes destroyed communications networks in Puerto Rico and firefighters lost service during California's historic wildfires,” said Joshua Stager, Deputy Director of the Open Technology Institute. “It's clear that the climate crisis is pushing our networks to the limit. Senators Markey and Wyden’s bill recognizes this reality and establishes a serious federal plan for network resiliency. Congress shouldn't wait for the next disaster to pass this bill. We need future-proof and climate-proof networks now.”