Western Carolina University Economist Urges NC Lawmakers to Address Barriers to Broadband Expansion

In a recent Asheville Citizen-Times op-ed, Edward J. Lopez, a Professor of Economics and the Director of the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise at Western Carolina University urged state lawmakers to address barriers that impede the efficient and timely deployment of high-speed internet to unserved, rural areas of North Carolina.

He encouraged leaders to prioritize tackling the existing unnecessary delays and burdensome expenses related to the process of attaching broadband infrastructure to utility poles owned by electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities in North Carolina.

One barrier comes up when broadband providers are ready to run wire to people’s homes but then have trouble connecting to utility poles along the way. This happens when the owners of utility poles – oftentimes municipal and electric member cooperatives – use their unique position to impose onerous conditions on broadband providers.”

Professor Lopez highlighted that proposed legislation in Raleigh would establish much-needed regulatory oversight related to utility poles, so broadband providers can more quickly expand to unserved areas.

A fairer process for pole attachments would prevent such barriers from coming up and would clear the path for full broadband expansion in North Carolina. Lawmakers in Raleigh have taken up this very point during the current session of the General Assembly. Proposed legislation would streamline the pole attachment process and update old regulations that once served the public interest but now simply create privileged positions for certain pole owners, namely munis and co-ops.”

You can read Professor Lopez’s full op-ed in the Asheville Citizen-Times by clicking here.

The FCC reports that almost half a million unserved North Carolinians remain without access to reliable broadband connectivity – many of them in rural areas. Right now, unnecessary obstacles and antiquated regulations drive up broadband deployment costs and delay the expansion of high-speed internet network infrastructure on utility poles owned by electric member cooperatives and municipal utilities, leaving many in North Carolina stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide.

In response to this growing divide, State Representative Jason Saine (R-97) and State Senator Ralph Hise (R-47) filed companion measures HB 815 and SB 689 to establish much-needed regulatory oversight related to utility poles, so broadband providers can more quickly expand to unserved areas. The proposed legislation aims to reduce the unnecessary delays and costs associated with attaching new broadband equipment to municipal and electric member cooperative owned utility poles.

Write your legislator and encourage them to support HB 815 and SB 689 to connect more North Carolinians to high-speed broadband by clicking here.