TO SPEED BROADBAND DEPLOYMENT, WE NEED CONSISTENT, TRANSPARENT, AND FAIR UTILITY POLE ACCESS
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 804,000 of them live right here in Florida.
Connectivity in these predominantly rural areas could be expedited by revamping an outdated process that increases the time and expense of rural broadband expansion projects: attaching broadband infrastructure to cooperative and municipal utility poles.
Much of Florida’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 cooperative and municipal utilities own most of the poles and operate almost completely free from any rules governing the broadband providers’ attachment to them. Broadband providers need electric cooperatives’ permission to attach their network to the poles and permitting often involves preparation of the poles to make them suitable for new attachment, a process called “make-ready”.
The permitting and make-ready process is complicated, but when it comes to cooperative and municipal utility poles, these complications are further complicated. There are simply no rules. 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:
- One broadband internet provider filed a complaint when a pole owner refused a permit to attach to poles that had been previously identified by the pole owner as needing replacement, unless and until the provider first paid to replace or reinforce those poles.
- Another provider filed a complaint when a pole owner tried to require numerous pole replacements, even though the poles complied with NESC (National Electrical Safety Code) construction requirements.
- In a major rural expansion, another provider found as many as 1 in 12 poles had to be replaced, with the average replaced pole already several decades into its service life.
- Yet another provider filed a complaint when a pole owner tried to shift pole replacement costs for poles that had reached the end of their useful lives.
Florida needs to do more to encourage broadband deployment, especially in rural areas, which are hurt most by pole attachment delays and excessive costs. With expansive lake areas, 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 1/3 of the total costs 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 broadband 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 LEGISLATURE CAN HELP EXPAND BROADBAND TO THOUSANDS OF FAMILIES ACROSS FLORIDA.
Now, more than ever, the expansion of broadband is vital to Florida’s future, particularly in rural communities. To speed broadband deployment, we need a transparent, just, and reasonable process that ensures a fair allocation of replacement costs between pole owners and new entities seeking to use the poles. The Florida Legislature could make it both more affordable and much faster to extend broadband networks to unserved areas by simply requiring electric cooperative and municipal electric pole owners to follow the rules already established by the Federal Communications Commission for investor-owned utilities.
Adopting fair and consistent pole regulations will accelerate rural broadband expansion in Florida – that means more students, families, and small businesses can get connected faster – and it’s never been more important.