TO SPEED BROADBAND DEPLOYMENT, WE NEED CONSISTENT, TRANSPARENT, AND FAIR UTILITY POLE ACCESS
Broadband providers have spent billions to extend their network infrastructure to reach millions more Americans every year, but still more than 18 million Americans remain unconnected.
About 450,000 of them live right here in South Carolina.
Connectivity in these predominantly rural areas could be expedited by revamping an outdated process that increases the time and expense of rural broadband expansion projects: attaching broadband cable to utility poles.
Much of South Carolina’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 cooperatives own most of the poles and operate almost completely free from any rules governing broadband providers’ ability to access them. Broadband providers need electric cooperatives’ permission to attach their equipment to utility poles and permitting often involves preparation of the poles to make them suitable for new attachment, a process called “make-ready.”
The permitting and make-ready process is complicated. However, the level of complexity associated with coop-owned utility poles is even greater. Moreover, while broadband internet providers across the country should only have to pay for the costs caused by their new pole attachments, they are often pressured to do far more:
- One broadband internet provider filed a complaint when a pole owner refused a permit to attach to poles that had been previously identified by the pole owner as needing replacement, unless and until the provider first paid to replace or reinforce those poles.
- Another provider filed a complaint when a pole owner tried to require numerous pole replacements, even though the poles complied with NESC (National Electrical Safety Code) construction requirements.
- In a major rural expansion, another provider found as many as 1 in 12 poles had to be replaced, with the average replaced pole already several decades into its service life.
- Yet another provider filed a complaint when a pole owner tried to shift pole replacement costs for poles that had reached the end of their useful lives.
South Carolina needs to do more to accelerate broadband deployment, especially in rural areas, which are hurt most by pole attachment delays and excessive costs. With beautiful lakes, large farms, manufacturing facilities, and many homes spread further 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 1/3 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 cable 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 SOUTH CAROLINA.
Now, more than ever, the expansion of broadband is vital to South Carolina’s future, particularly in rural communities. To speed broadband deployment, we need to augment the GREAT Act to create a transparent and clear set of rules that ensures reasonable rates for attachments, safe and speedy deployment, and a fair allocation of replacement costs between pole owners and new entities seeking to use the poles.
Accelerating the electric cooperatives’ implementation of fair and consistent pole regulations will drive rural broadband expansion in South Carolina – that means more students, families, and small businesses can get connected and it happens faster – and it’s never been more important.