PRINCIPLES FOR BROADBAND EXPANSION
#1: ENSURE PREDICTABLE & FAIR POLE REPLACEMENT COSTS
Broadband providers are often forced to bear the entire expense of replacing old utility poles when the existing pole does not have the capacity to handle the new attachments, even when a pole is out of compliance with code or near or past the end of its useful life and is in need of replacement by the utility anyway. Instead of replacing the poles, some utility pole owners even wait until there is a request for a new attachment by a broadband provider so they can get them to pay the full costs of the replacement.
Broadband providers are forced to accept the cooperative and municipal electric utility company demands to pay all of the pole replacement costs in order to avoid extensive construction delays and flat-out denial of applications for attachment. These utility company practices discourage new investment in internet infrastructure in rural areas where people need broadband the most. The unique public purpose of cooperative and municipal utility poles should carry a heavy obligation to make these poles available to others. Broadband providers should pay their fair share, but these attachments should not create a source of revenue windfalls for these utilities.
#2: ESTABLISH PREDICTABLE & FAIR POLE RATES
Federal law governs investor-owned utility pole attachment rates, but not the rates charged by cooperatives and municipal electric companies. In fact, their pole attachment rates are not regulated at all. Many cooperatives and municipal electric companies take advantage of this by charging pole attachment rates that are two or three times higher, adding hundreds of dollars more for each mile of broadband infrastructure built.
Higher rates harm broadband deployment, network upgrades, and competition in rural areas, contributing to the digital divide between urban and rural areas.
There is an easy fix to this problem. The Florida legislature can require electric cooperatives and municipal utilities to follow the same rules the Federal Communications Commission established for investor-owned utilities.
#3: ESTABLISH PREDICTABLE & FAIR POLE ATTACHMENT OPERATIONAL STANDARDS TO SPEED UP DEPLOYMENT
The FCC rules that apply in Florida for investor-owned utilities have an expedited process to allow for safe, efficient, and fast deployment of broadband networks on utility poles. These rules, commonly referred to as “one-touch make ready,” strike an important balance between protecting existing entities with facilities on poles and making way for faster access by new attachers.
The Florida legislature should require cooperatives and municipal electric companies to follow the Federal Communication Commission’s rules and other operational guidelines such as:
- One-Touch Make Ready: Allow new attachers to perform the utility make-ready quickly themselves, thereby eliminating the time and costs associated with the current multi-step processes that can take several months.
- Overlashing: Prohibit utilities from charging fees to overlash or requiring permits or engineering studies and allow attachers to overlash upon 15 days’ advance notice to the utility.
- Self-Help Rule: Allow a new attacher to engage a utility-approved contractor to complete surveys and make-ready work anywhere on the pole (including the power supply space) if the pole owner or existing attachers do not meet required deadlines.
Requiring all utility pole owners to follow a common set of operational principles that are focused on supporting the safe, efficient, and timely deployment of broadband services is in the public interest, and it’s in the best interest of the 804,000 Floridians who currently lack access to critical broadband services. Establishing predictable and fair operational standards will accelerate broadband deployment and reduce costs by allowing the party with the strongest incentive to prepare the pole to efficiently execute all necessary work.