The author is with the Taxpayers Protection Alliance
Editor’s note: This commentary was published by The Center Square, which gave the News-Press permission to reprint it.
A recent report found that red tape in regards to pole attachment policies at the state and federal level is harming broadband growth and holding up many millions of dollars in economic benefits.
The study from Connect the Future, led by Western Carolina University economics professor Edward Lopez and pole attachment expert Patricia Kratvin, found that better access to utility poles so that internet providers can attach their equipment “is the most efficient means to expand high-speed broadband access to currently unserved areas of the country.”
The report determines that the overregulated pole attachment issue is costing Americans an incredible amount of between $491 million and $1.86 billion in unrealized economic gains.
Because burying fiber is often prohibitively expensive, most providers try to attach their cable to utility poles where available. Providers often face resistance from the owners of the poles — usually electric companies — in the form of delayed permitting or disagreements on best practices.
With lawmakers attempting to ease access to poles for providers, this is an issue that many states have begun to address legislatively. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance testified on the need to cut such red tape during the spring session of the Texas Legislature. HB 1505, ultimately passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, established guidelines on who pays for pole replacements and set a shot clock on how quickly a pole owner must act on pole attachment requests.
Broadband Breakfast noted that large telecoms have been forced to file lawsuits to gain efficient and timely access to poles. The Federal Communications Commission found that a Maryland utility billed Verizon “unjust” pole attachment fees by charging the maximum rate possible. The FCC also ruled this year that investor-owned utilities cannot charge pole replacements costs to providers adding new attachments to poles if they aren’t the sole cause for the replacement.
These reforms come as the federal government looks to put billions of taxpayer dollars into broadband growth across the U.S, as TPA previously reported.
Zach Cikanek, executive director of Connect the Future, said in a press release accompanying the report that the study “makes clear that as our country continues to invest public and private dollars into expanding broadband access, policymakers must take immediate action to ensure that these investments are maximized for impact to bring connectivity to rural communities without delay — and this includes reforming outdated and ineffective pole attachment rules.”
Mr. Cikanek argued that policymakers need to establish “a faster, fairer process” for dispute resolution and utility pole access, given the “significant market power” that pole owners hold over pole attachment rates and terms.
The report also said that pole owners “frequently impose onerous timetables, unfeasible permitting fees, and various pre- and post-construction requirements, including full pole replacements ahead of scheduled replacement, as part of ‘make-ready’ procedures required prior to the actual attachment to the pole.”
Bureaucrats should work to limit the control that pole owners hold over the growth of broadband infrastructure. It will help close the digital divide, speed timely deployment of high-speed internet, and lessen the need to use taxpayer money to build out the networks.
Johnny Kampis is a senior fellow and investigative reporter for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.