February 2, 2024

To read the full letter referenced in the Law360 article below, please click here


Law360: Broadband Coalition Asks NTIA To Help Lower Pole Costs

By Nadia Dreid,

If the National Telecommunications and Information Administration wants the $42.5 billion BEAD program to achieve its goals of internet for all, the agency will have to prioritize putting rules in place that allow telecoms fair and affordable access to utility poles, a coalition argues.

Connect the Future — a group whose members are both companies and organizations, including Charter Communications and the SHLB Coalition — sent a letter to Alan Davidson, head of the NTIA, urging him to do something about pole attachments while it’s still reviewing the state’s proposals on how they’ll handle their billions in Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program funding.

Though the Federal Communications Commission is taking some steps in the right direction to lay down the law on who should bear the cost of pole attachments, the coalition argues that the NTIA should also place its own conditions on BEAD funding to ensure things go smoothly.

“As the agency charged with administering the nation’s largest single investment in broadband deployment, the NTIA’s voice will be vital to ensuring that BEAD recipients take necessary action on poles,” the coalition’s letter said.

According to the coalition, some of the strings the NTIA should attach to BEAD money, include requirements that all recipients follow federal pole attachments rules, even if they’re normally exempt, and that the states make a “clear plan” for dealing with pole disputes, the organization said.

The NTIA should also pressure the FCC to get its pole-related reforms over the finish line, the letter said. The group further suggested the agency make a pot of money available to offset the cost of replacing poles.

Completing the “historic mission” the Biden administration has set out to do with the program “will require more than just $42.5 billion in BEAD funding,” the coalition said. “It will require wise guidance from your agency to ensure that this investment is used efficiently to bring connectivity to unserved Americans.”

BEAD is a $42.5 billion program aimed at helping close the digital divide and funding infrastructure projects and planning in the 50 states. The states will receive the money and then be responsible for doling it out to the companies — or subgrantees — that will carry out the project. The NTIA is currently reviewing the states’ proposals on how to handle the funds.

The FCC said in November that it was heeding the call of companies who say pole owners are shifting the costs of maintaining and replacing poles onto them when they want to lease space for attachments. It considered rules to make the process “faster, more transparent, and more cost-effective” at its December meeting and has asked for public feedback.