INDIANAPOLIS, July 24, 2017 – A senior Federal Communications Commission officials says the agency’s involvement in the pole attachment issue underscores FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s commitment to driving broadband facilities deployment deeper into rural and underserved areas.
“We’re really interested in trying to grapple with this. The Chairman is very concerned about closing the digital divide. He is specifically interested in making sure that we get great broadband buildout to rural areas,” said Madeleine Findley, Deputy Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau.
Findley’s comments came in an Independent Show panel discussion on some of the key issues that needed to be addressed in the area of rural broadband deployment. Most of the conversation, taking place before hundreds of executives from small and mid-sized broadband providers, centered on difficulties accessing poles owned by entities subject to FCC jurisdiction.
The Independent Show, now in its 12th year, is jointly organized and produced by the American Cable Association and the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC). NCTC, based in Lenexa, Kan., negotiates with programming and equipment suppliers on behalf of hundreds multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) in the United States.
In January, Chairman Ajit Pai formed the ad hoc Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which has met twice in an effort to provide advice and recommendations on how the FCC can accelerate the deployment of high-speed Internet access.
“We continue to hear from people in this room that there are problems, that there are conflicts,” Findley said.
The FCC has a pending rulemaking on ways to accelerate wireline broadband deployment by removing barriers to infrastructure investment, she added.
“The docket is still open and we are interested in ex parte meetings and communications, so please don’t be shy,” Findley said.
For many years, deployment of communications facilities in rural areas has been frustrated by the fact that poles needed to deploy networks are not owned by the communication companies but by cities, co-operatives, private utility companies and others. Some fall under FCC regulation, while others are exempt. Pole attachment negotiations can be long and costly, and the FCC itself has taken extensive periods to respond to complaints.
“Obviously, poles are a big issue for us. You kind of have a different story with each pole owner. Some are more friendly than others,” said Earle MacKenzie, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Shentel in Edinburg, Va.
Bo Greshman, Vice President of Ervin Cable Construction in Sturgis, Ky., said difficulty in accessing poles on a reliable timetable makes it hard to make promises to customers about the initiation and completion of deployment projects.
“It’s impossible to schedule without having a clear path with the power company,” Gresham said.
Also on the panel was Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, whose city’s Electric Power Board (EPB) became in 2010 the first municipally owned utilities company in the U.S. to offer Internet access directly to the public at speeds up to 1 Gig per second by utilizing its fiber optic network.
Berke said one of his concerns was expanding the city’s network into adjacent communities that have inferior Internet access. That effort came to an abrupt end when the courts stopped the FCC from pre-empting state laws that attempted to block municipal expansion projects.
“We know the pain of not being able to build out our system,” Berke said. “Innovation can’t occur if we don’t have different ways of doing things.”
About the American Cable Association: Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing about 850 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for nearly 7 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America. Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA’s members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business. For more information, visit https://acaconnects.org/