Access to utility poles emerges as one of the principal issues in rural broadband, according to comments to the FCC on accelerating investment in infrastructure. The FCC recently called for ideas to hasten both wireline and wireless networks to accompany the work of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC).
“On the whole, NTCA members report having good working relationships with utilities that own poles in their service areas [and NTCA members frequently have ‘joint use’ agreements in place that simplify the process of access to poles]. However, despite these relationships, the length of the make-ready timeline continues to operate as a barrier to the deployment of broadband infrastructure for small providers,” said NTCA, the Rural Broadband Association, in its comments.
NTCA referred to a 2011 FCC Pole Attachment Order that sets a “make-ready” timeline of 133-148 days for utilities and broadband providers to settle “routine” agreements. It proposes shortening that timetable by about 45 days for small, rural broadband providers for small projects involving less than 100 poles. “NTCA’s proposal would apply only to “routine” make-ready work, i.e., work that is not reasonably expected to cause a customer outage,” the association said.
NRECA, in its comments, noted that rural electric cooperatives are not subject to federal pole attachment laws. It, therefore, questioned the FCC’s inclusion of cooperative pole access as an issue in its current proceeding. “The FCC lacks jurisdiction to “speed deployments” on these poles or to “encourage or facilitate access to information” about rates and make-ready costs associated with these poles. By any measure, government efforts to speed deployments on poles or gather information about poles is government regulation of those poles,” NRECA said.
Cooperatives are willing to negotiate reasonable terms with broadband providers and, in areas where no “traditional” broadband providers are interested in serving NRECA members’ areas, some electric companies have been doing so themselves.