March 11, 2024

ACA Connects Members Spur Investment and Community Engagement

Call For Action to Speed up Permitting Delays

During a panel discussion at #Summit2024, ACA Connects celebrated its broadband innovators who are investing in their communities and making an impact locally to close the digital divide.

“Over the past 5 years, ACA Connects members have expanded their collective footprint over 40 percent, which translates to 9 million additional homes passed,” said Brian Hurley, ACA Connects’ Chief Regulatory Counsel who moderated the panel. “At the same time, our members are continually upgrading their networks to provide higher speeds, more reliable service, and enhanced features and capabilities.”

Metronet is one of those member companies investing heavily. “We are in the top five companies in the nation in terms new fiber-to-the-premise passings that we have deployed,” said Dave Heimbach, President and CEO of Metronet, citing private capital investment of hundreds of millions of dollars.

However, Heimbach called that process “messy” because of challenges securing pole attachments, proper permits, traffic control, and other issues.

“While we feel as though we are investing heavily and innovating, it is a frustrating process because of things that slow our progress to helping bridge the digital divide,” Heimbach noted.

Patrice Carroll, President and CEO of ImOn Communications – a small provider offering telecommunications services for residents and businesses in Eastern Iowa, cited difficulties with long planning and permitting lead times – sometimes up to 9 months – and difficulties locating underground utilities. “There are not enough locaters in the world,” Carroll said.

She added: “Where we build, there is a lot of rock. So we have balance what it will cost to go through rocks, versus what it will cost to get pole attachments.”

Dave Hymas, Vice President, Legal and Regulatory and Deputy General Counsel for GCI, cited the challenges posed by Alaska’s unique geography. “For the Aleutians Fiber Project in Dutch Harbor, we had to lay 850 miles of fiber under the ocean,” said Hymas.

He added that cost, predictability and the long lead times associated with reaching unserved communities are also tough. “As we put proposals together for BEAD, we are keeping these things in mind,” explained Hymas.

ACA Connects Members actively engage with their communities.

“Born and raised in Alaska is our company motto,” said Hymas. He added that GCI donates some $2 million a year to more than 100 charitable organizations.

ImOn Communications’ Carroll shared the company’s local connection with the community. It provides free WiFi to communities that desire it, gives employees 16 hours off for volunteering, and uses the company fleet to deliver Meals on Wheels each month.

These activities help ImOn be part of the community. “We need to be present and helping those parts of the community that need to be helped,” Carroll said.

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