Utility Poles

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 14.5 million Americans remain unconnected.

Connectivity in these largely rural areas could be expedited by addressing an outdated process that increases the time and expense of rural broadband expansion projects: attaching broadband cable to utility poles.

Much of our broadband infrastructure zig zags the country 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. This process – called “make-ready work” within the industry – includes everything from permitting to renting space for equipment to replacing old or out-of-code poles.

The make-ready process is complicated: procedures, laws, and regulations depend on the location of the pole and the type of pole owner and pole owners don’t always play by the rules or adhere to set timelines. And though broadband internet providers are only supposed to pay for the costs caused by their new 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 construction requirements.

Rural areas are hurt most by pole-related issues, because with homes further apart, the sheer number of poles required to get from point A to point B can increase exponentially, which can have the same result on the time and expense of a rural expansion project.

As much as 1/4 of the total expense comes from pole replacements alone (including applications, surveys, permitting, labor, and material).

The result?

Excessive costs and delays that discourage new investment and expansion to the places that need it most. If the time and cost per potential customer is too high, broadband internet providers will choose to expand elsewhere.

Utility Poles: Speeding Broadband Deployment to Close the Digital Divide