Pole Attachment Actions NTIA Can Take to Support Internet for All

May 21, 2024

In a recent blog post, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) acknowledged the pivotal role permitting plays in ensuring the success of its Internet for All initiative. CTF agrees that helping BEAD grantees navigate the permitting process and avoid needless delays will be critical to achieving 100% connectivity in the U.S.

NTIA has laid out concrete steps it is taking to increase predictability in various permitting processes – particularly environmental and historic preservation approvals – but has not yet offered specific guidance on how it will address pole attachment barriers. Having closely followed pole attachment and replacement challenges for years, CTF urges NTIA to be more explicit in its direction regarding expectations for timely, reasonable and efficient poles access. In the absence of such guidance, the historic broadband deployment funding effort will not achieve its potential.

To introduce the certainty and efficiency in the pole attachment process needed to more quickly deploy broadband to all, CTF offers NTIA the following recommendations (also sent in a letter to Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson which is available here):

  • Require all BEAD grant recipients to abide by the FCC’s pole guidelines, including, critically, the electric cooperatives and municipalities otherwise exempt from these FCC rules;
  • Require states and territories receiving BEAD funding to address pole replacement issues and pole access disputes in their plans;
  • Ensure BEAD funds are available to offset pole replacement costs; and
  • Urge the FCC to expedite additional pole-related reforms.

Why is Pole Attachment Reform Important?

Utility poles carry the vast majority of our nation’s communications and broadband infrastructure, but too often, adding new internet infrastructure to poles creates needless hurdles that significantly delay broadband deployment to the communities that need it most, particularly in rural areas. That’s because some pole owners impose unnecessary delays and costs into the process, which undermines predictability and often leads to disputes that shift resources away from deploying broadband and result in significant delay – or even halt projects entirely.

The FCC’s recent actions began addressing some of these pole attachment barriers, but additional reforms are needed if we want to ensure all unserved families are connected quickly.  Moreover, by statute, the FCC’s actions are limited to one subset of pole owners – i.e., investor owned utilities – and does not address the harmful conduct of municipal and cooperative pole owners that is slowing deployment.  NTIA – tasked with administering the nation’s largest broadband deployment investment ever – can play an instrumental role in leading on this critical issue.