TO SPEED BROADBAND DEPLOYMENT, WE NEED A TRANSPARENT AND FAIR UTILITY POLES PROCESS
Broadband providers have spent billions to extend their network infrastructure to reach millions more Americans every year, yet more than 18 million Americans still remain unconnected.
About 472,000 right here in North Carolina remain unserved.
Connectivity in these predominantly rural areas could be expedited by revamping an outdated process that increases the time and expense of rural broadband expansion projects: attaching broadband cable to cooperative and municipal utility poles.
Much of North Carolina’s broadband infrastructure zig zags the state via utility poles, but the poles are not typically owned by broadband internet providers. When providers want to extend their broadband service into rural areas, they face even greater challenges because electric cooperative utilities own many of the poles and operate almost completely free from any rules governing the broadband providers’ attachments to them. Broadband providers need the municipal and electric cooperatives’ permission to attach their networks to the poles. Permitting often involves preparation of the poles to make them suitable for new attachments, a process called “make-ready.”
The permitting and make-ready process is complicated, but when it comes to municipal and electric cooperative-owned poles, the complications are compounded. And though broadband internet providers across the country are only supposed to pay for the costs caused by their new pole attachments, they are often pressured to do far more.
North Carolina needs to do more to encourage broadband deployment, especially in rural areas, which are hurt most by pole attachment delays and excessive costs. With vast countryside, large farms, manufacturing facilities, and many homes spread far apart, the number of poles needed to serve those residences is far greater than in urban and suburban areas, which exacerbates these problems and makes it more difficult to serve them.
- As much as 35% of the total cost to the broadband provider in rural areas comes from utility make-ready costs alone (including pole replacements) and this is before the provider has installed even its first piece of cable network infrastructure.
The result? Excessive costs and delays that discourage new investment and diminish the opportunity for expansion to the places that need it most.
THE NORTH CAROLINA LEGISLATURE CAN HELP EXPAND BROADBAND TO THOUSANDS OF FAMILIES ACROSS NORTH CAROLINA.
Now, more than ever, the expansion of broadband is vital to North Carolina’s future, particularly in rural communities. North Carolina crafted a State Broadband Plan in 2016. Since that time, the North Carolina General Assembly has proactively sought to incentivize broadband deployment in unserved areas by creating the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) broadband grant program, a $150 million investment over 10 years.
Thus far, the GREAT program has awarded $56 million in grants, which will connect over 40,000 new addresses. The North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office continues to make progress on GREAT and other programs to extend broadband to unserved areas, but we are still short of achieving the state’s 100% universal broadband access goal. To further accelerate broadband deployment, we need to do more to ensure that access to critical broadband infrastructure is predictable, fair, and fast. The General Assembly’s efforts could soon make it more affordable and much faster to extend broadband networks to all unserved areas.
Adopting fair and consistent pole regulations will help accelerate rural broadband expansion in North Carolina – that means more students, families, and small businesses can get connected and that it happens faster – and it’s never been more important.