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, yet more than 18 million Americans still remain unconnected.
And at least 1.23 million of them live right here in Texas.
Connectivity in these predominantly rural areas could be expedited by revamping an outdated process that increases the time and expense of rural broadband expansion projects: attaching broadband cable to poles owned by electric cooperatives.
Much of Texas’s broadband infrastructure zig zags the state 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 face even greater challenges because electric cooperative utilities own most of the poles and operate almost completely free from any rules governing the broadband providers’ attachment to them. Broadband providers need the electric cooperatives permission to attach their network to the poles. Permitting often involves preparation of the poles to make them suitable for new attachments, a process called “make-ready.”
The permitting and make-ready process is complicated, but when it comes to electric cooperative owned poles, it is truly the “wild west.” There are simply no rules at all.
Texas needs to do more to encourage broadband deployment, especially in rural areas, which are hurt most by pole attachment delays and excessive costs. With vast countryside, large ranches and many homes spread far 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 35% 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 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 LEGISLATURE CAN HELP EXPAND BROADBAND TO THOUSANDS OF FAMILIES ACROSS TEXAS.
The Texas Legislature is preparing to consider rural broadband legislation that addresses 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 cooperative utility pole owners and new entities seeking to use the poles. The Legislature’s effort could soon make it both more affordable and much faster to extend broadband networks to unserved areas.
Adopting fair and consistent pole regulations will help drive rural broadband expansion in Texas – that means more students, families, and small businesses can get connected and it happens faster – and it’s never been more important.