New Study Highlights the Economic Benefits of Utility Pole Reform

The unfortunate and unacceptable reality in North Carolina is that nearly 472,000 people – many of whom reside and work in rural parts of the state – remain without the access to reliable, high-speed broadband needed to thrive in the modern world.

A new study published by Edward J. Lopez, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise at Western Carolina University, and Patricia Kravtin, noted pole attachment expert, examines one of the main barriers that inhibit fast broadband infrastructure deployment to connect more North Carolinians. Utility Pole Policy: A Cost Effective Prescription for Achieving Full Broadband Access in North Carolina,” shows that the unclear and inconsistent regulations around attaching to utility poles are creating these barriers.

The report finds that North Carolina could ultimately realize well over $3.5 billion in new economic gains through recently awarded broadband grant funds to help defray the total cost of expansion and bridge North Carolina’s digital gap. These new economic gains encompass the potential magnitude of the productive, commercial, educational, health, civic, and other social benefits that stand to be realized by the public, but only if full broadband expansion is achieved.

To achieve these economic gains, Lopez and Kravtin argue that policymakers must immediately address the pole attachments issue – which Connect The Future has long supported – by:

  • Promoting an efficient and equitable cost-sharing arrangement between attachers (broadband providers) and pole owners (primarily municipal and cooperative electric utilities).
  • Establishing reasonable time frames for the process of attaching broadband cables to utility poles.
  • Adopting consistent statewide policies aimed at reducing the transaction costs and delays currently imposed upon broadband providers when accessing utility poles.

In the study, Lopez and Kravtin warn that each day without such policy changes will not only negatively impact communities in North Carolina that lack broadband access, but the entire state. In fact, for each month of delayed broadband expansion due to pole attachment issues, the state could forgo at least $14 to $16 million in economic gains. That adds up to more than $186 million per year of unrealized economic gains due to a set of unjust and unreasonable rates, terms and conditions imposed on third-party broadband providers by pole owners.

You can read the full report by clicking here.