Utility Poles In Kentucky

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, but still more than 18 million Americans remain unconnected.

About 300,000 of them live right here in Kentucky.

Connectivity in these predominantly rural areas could be expedited by revamping an outdated process that increases the time and expense of rural broadband expansion projects: attaching broadband cable to utility poles.

Much of Kentucky’s broadband infrastructure zig zags the commonwealth 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 must first get permission and permits from the pole owners, and then utility companies prepare the poles to be suitable for new attachments, a process called “make-ready.”

The permitting and make-ready process is complicated: procedures, laws, and regulations depend on the location of the pole and the type of pole owner, and where rules exist to address the process in a timely and efficient manner they are not always followed or enforced. 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 poles 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.

Rural areas are hurt most by pole attachment delays and excessive costs, because with homes further 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 icable 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 PSC Can Help Expand Broadband to Thousands of Families Across Kentucky.

Now, more than ever, the expansion of broadband is vital to Kentucky’s future, particularly in rural communities. The PSC has an ongoing pole attachment proceeding that addresses some of these pole-related barriers and delays. 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 PSC’s effort could soon make it both more affordable and much faster to extend broadband networks to unserved areas.

Fair and consistent pole regulations will drive rural broadband expansion in Kentucky – that means more students, families, and small businesses can get connected and it happens faster – and it’s never been more important.