Federal Permitting: Overview

Wed, March 11, 2020

The federal government owns or controls about 640 million acres of land in the United States, about 28 percent of the total land area of 2.27 billion acres.  The Department of the Interior (DOI) is responsible for managing nearly 500 million acres of land, or one in every five acres of land in the United States.  The U.S. Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture (USDA), manages about 192.9 million acres of national forests.  Most of the public lands that DOI manages are located west of the Mississippi River in 11 western states and Alaska.  Although Forest Service holdings are mostly in the Western United States, it also manages about 60 percent of all federal lands in the Eastern United States.  Of the nearly 27 million acres of land that the Department of Defense (DOD) manages, it owns 11.4 million acres, about two percent of all federal land.  Together, DOI, USDA, and DOD manage 97 percent of federal land.

Federal lands and assets play a critical role in telecommunications networks – through rights-of-way across lands and siting equipment on lands and buildings.  An Internet Service Provider (ISP) deploying or expanding a wireline or wireless network in rural American may need to work with several federal and state agencies to secure the permits and authorizations needed to deploy broadband infrastructure.

Multiple federal property-holding agencies must approve the placement of facilities on their lands and buildings, and often negotiate lease agreements with those seeking access.  As noted, the major land and property holding agencies include the Department of Agriculture (U.S. Forest Service); Department of Defense; General Services Administration (GSA); Department of Interior (Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), National Park Service (NPS), U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW), and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)).  The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) may also be involved in siting decisions through its utility accommodation policy within federal-aid rights-of-way.

In February 2020, GSA and USDA’s Forest Service finalized the process to make the existing SF-299 a Common Application Form suitable for telecommunications purposes.  All the major federal property-managing agencies will use the SF-299 as the common application form to authorize permits for wireline or wireless communications uses or facilities.  The revised form also can be accessed on the U.S. Forest Service website at
SF-299 Form

Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Department of Defense (DOD)
Department of the Interior (DOI)
Department of Transportation (DOT)
General Services Administration (GSA)
Department of Energy (DOE)
Relevant Agencies:
Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC)
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP)
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Federal Communications Commission (FCC)