#1: ENSURE PREDICTABLE & FAIR POLE REPLACEMENT COSTS
Broadband providers who attach their wires and other infrastructure to utility poles owned by cooperative and municipal electric utilities are often forced to bear the entire cost of replacing old utility poles. Even when a pole is near or past the end of its useful life and is in need of replacement by the utility anyway, broadband providers bear the cost. Some of these utilities wait until a broadband provider requests a new attachment before replacing old poles, just so they can get the full costs of the replacement paid for by someone else.
To avoid extensive construction delays and prevent the utilities from simply denying the pole application request, broadband providers are forced into accepting unreasonable demands. The broadband providers’ choice is to pay the pole replacement cost, abandon the project, or spend time looking for another solution. These prevalent utility company practices create unnecessary delays, increase costs, and discourage new rural broadband infrastructure. Broadband companies that attach to utility poles should pay their fair share, but pole owners bear responsibility as well.
#2: PROVIDE FASTER REVIEW OF POLE ATTACHMENT REQUESTS
The ability to expand broadband in a timely, cost-effective manner directly correlates to a provider’s ability to efficiently access cooperative and municipal electric utility poles. The FCC has established a regulatory framework that applies to investor-owned utilities in North Carolina like Duke Energy. These rules cover the period of time for investor owned utilities to review pole applications and complete necessary steps to ready the poles for new attachments. In North Carolina, municipal and cooperative electric utilities, however, are exempt and operate without these same requirements. As a result, projects that should take a few weeks can drag on for many months or longer because there are no rules and the pole owners have little or no incentive to move expeditiously.
#3: DISPUTE RESOLUTION TIMEFRAMES
Broadband providers want to deploy service to unserved rural areas as quickly as possible, but potential disputes with the utility pole owners on pole replacements can delay project completion for several months. To promote and facilitate the timely deployment of broadband services in these unserved rural areas, all disputes that arise and are brought to the North Carolina Utilities Commission should be resolved within 120 days. Speeding the resolution of disputes between broadband providers and municipal and cooperative utilities will result in the faster deployment of broadband in the state.