#1: ENSURE PREDICTABLE & FAIR POLE REPLACEMENT COSTS
Broadband providers who attach their wires and other infrastructure to certain utility poles are often forced to bear the entire expense of replacing old poles. Even when a pole is near or past the end of its useful life and is in need of replacement by the utility anyway. Instead of replacing the poles at the end of their useful life, some utilities wait until there is a request for a new attachment by a broadband provider so they can get them to pay the full costs of the replacement.
Broadband providers are typically forced to accept some utility companies’ demands to pay all of the pole replacement costs in order to avoid extensive construction delays and denial of its permit application. These costs discourage new investment in internet infrastructure in rural areas that need it most. Broadband companies that attach to these certain utility poles should pay their fair share, but pole owners bear responsibility as well.
#2: PROVIDE FASTER PERMITTING & DISPUTE RESOLUTION TIMEFRAMES
The ability to expand broadband in a timely, cost-effective manner directly correlates to a provider’s ability to efficiently access certain utility poles. In some cases, projects that should be completed in a few weeks can take many months or longer because of unnecessarily lengthy and complicated permitting timeframes. Broadband providers seeking to deploy to rural areas are often delayed by some pole owners who have little or no incentive to move quickly. When a broadband provider seeks permission to attach its network to investor-owned utilities’ poles – like the poles owned by Oncor or Entergy – there are rules and mechanisms to ensure that timeframes to review these applications are followed. When the same broadband provider wants to attach its facilities to poles owned by electric cooperatives, however, no rules govern the timeframe for review and approval. This makes no sense.
Efficient deployment of rural broadband demands a process that includes:
- timely completion of responses to pole access requests;
- timely completion of make-ready work; and
- timely resolution of pole access disputes.
#3: ESTABLISH A STATE BROADBAND OFFICE
Texas would benefit from the creation of a state broadband office to engage stakeholders to identify and address barriers to deployment, especially in unserved areas. The office should be tasked with creating a state broadband plan — Texas is currently one of six states that does not have a state broadband plan. Additionally, a state broadband office should encourage digital adoption and help communities connect eligible Texans with low-cost broadband options and digital education resources.