PRINCIPLES FOR BROADBAND EXPANSION
#1: ENSURE PREDICTABLE & FAIR POLE REPLACEMENT COSTS
Broadband providers are often forced to bear the expense of the entire cost of replacing old electric cooperative utility poles, even when a pole is near the end or past its useful life and is in need of replacement anyway. Instead of replacing the poles, some utility pole owners even wait until there is a request for a new attachment by a broadband provider so they can get them to pay all the costs.
To avoid extensive construction delays or even flat-out denial of pole attachment applications, broadband providers are forced to accept the electric cooperatives’ demands to pay all of the pole replacement costs. These costs can add up quickly and utility company practices discourage new investment, particularly in unserved rural areas, where more poles are needed per connection. The unique public purpose of cooperative utility poles should carry a heavy obligation to make these poles available to others. Broadband providers should pay their fair share, but not windfall profits for electric cooperatives.
#2: ESTABLISH PREDICTABLE & FAIR POLE RENTAL RATES
Federal law governs investor-owned utility pole attachment rates, but not the rates charged by cooperatives. Many electric cooperatives companies take advantage of this by charging pole attachment rates that are two or three times higher than the federal rate, adding hundreds of dollars more for each mile of broadband infrastructure built. These higher rates inhibit greater investment in broadband deployment and network upgrades and prevent competition in rural areas, widening the digital divide.
But easy fixes are available:
- Electric cooperative pole owners could choose to lower pole attachment rates to more accurately reflect their actual costs and accelerate rural deployment of broadband in unserved areas.
- The legislature or the Public Service Commission could increase the effectiveness of the GREAT Act, adding increasing transparency and simplicity by setting clear standards to define the terms “just,” “reasonable,” and “non-discriminatory,” which would ensure swift resolution of disputes.