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The Pole Attachment Controversy Shadows the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee



WASHINGTON, August 2, 2018 – Local representatives and telecommunications providers faced off at last Thursday’s meeting of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee meeting on regulatory barriers to new pole attachments and wireless facilities.

On July 26 and 27, the Federal Communications Commission hosted a Broadband Development Advisory Committee meeting. The committee met to discuss, create recommendations and vote on harmonizing a Model Code for Municipalities and Model Code for States.

Announced in January 2017 as one of the first actions of new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, BDAC was seen to be a multi-stakeholder committee to discuss recommendations and advice for broadband deployment.

However, BDAC has been criticized for imbalanced representation. The National League of Cities and other municipal stakeholders collaborated to nominate 26 local representatives for positions on BDAC. Yet when the committee was unveiled, only one — San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo — was empaneled.

The issue of pole attachments comes to the FCC on Thursday

Later on Thursday, August 2, the FCC is scheduled to hold an monthly Open Commission Meeting and vote on a One Touch Make Ready policy that would “adopt a new framework for the vast majority of pole attachments” which would allow a new attacher to “opt to perform all work to prepare a pole for a new attachment”

The stated goal of OTMR is to accelerate the preparation of poles for new attachments such as small cell wireless deployments, which would be critical to infrastructure for 5G technology.

According to the agency’s proposal, “an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 small cells will be constructed by the end of 2018, and these numbers are projected to reach 455,000 by 2020 and 800,000 by 2026.”

Make Ready refers to “modification or replacement of a utility pole, or of the lines or equipment on the utility pole, to accommodate additional facilities on the pole.”

The OTMR proposal states that by shifting the framework to allow the new attachers to prepare the pole for the new attachment, OTMR will speed up the process greatly, as it will no longer be a complex multi-party process.

Pole attachments and wireless facilities a source of controversy for BDAC

At the BDAC meeting on July 26 and 27, a contentious debate erupted between Georgia Municipal Association Executive Director Larry Hanson and AT&T representative Chris Nurse over removal of a clause in the definition of what a pole is.

In the Model Code for Municipalities, the definition originally read: “‘Pole’ means a legally conforming (or otherwise legally constructed) pole, such as a utility, lighting, traffic, or similar pole.”

However, in the July 26 proposed version, the clause “legally conforming (or otherwise legally constructed)” had been removed to adopt the model state code’s definition, which did not include the clause.

Hanson argued that the deleted clause should be reinstated to enforce that existing regulations for poles are respected.

Seemingly an insignificant issue, the “pole” debate became a divisive issue in the BDAC meeting. It was representative of the overall conflict in the body between local officials and telecommunications carriers.

Hanson claimed that removing the language “legally conforming” could result in undermining current city regulations on poles, allowing for the nonconforming poles to continue to potentially violate current city regulations.

On the other end, Nurse argued against reinstating the clause, claiming that such regulatory barriers would cause a burdensome obstruction for telecommunications carriers seeking to add new attachments, such as small cells, to poles.

How the vote totals broke down on the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee

In the initial vote for the amendment, BDAC Chair Elizabeth Bowles counted 10 voted in favor of reinstating the language, with 9 voting no. However, in a later roll-call vote, 12 voted no, and the amendment was turned down.

“It can’t be that much of a problem for the municipality because if it was, they would compel its removal already,” Nurse said, arguing that legally nonconforming poles already standing in the city are not a significant issue, unless they are a threat to life and safety.

“It’s something that they were willing to live with,” he said.

He argued it would be extremely cumbersome for cable companies to identify who the owner of the pole is, and to what “pedigree” it is legally nonconforming.

“It’s a substantial barrier on carriers to make that showing,” he said.  “It would require us to prove that they were legally conforming, 800,000 times,” Nurse said.

(Photograph of a January 2018 Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee meeting via Twitter feed of Ajit Pai.)




Broadband's Impact

Missouri’s BEAD Initial Proposal, Volume Two

The state is unsure if any of its $1.7 billion allocation will be left over after funding new infrastructure.



Photo of the Missouri River by Robert Stinnett.

Missouri released a draft volume two of its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment initial proposal on November 15.

It was part of a wave of states and territories that began seeking public comment on their drafts in recent weeks. All 56 have now done so.

After a 30-day comment period, states and territories are required to submit their proposals to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration by December 27. The proposals come in two volumes: volume one details how states will ground-truth broadband coverage data, and volume two outlines states’ plans for administering grant programs with their BEAD funds.

The Missouri Broadband Office is “not yet able to determine” whether it will have any of its $1.7 billion in BEAD money left over after funding infrastructure projects.

The state is planning to administer two rounds of funding, something the state’s broadband director BJ Tanksley has flagged as being potentially difficult given BEAD’s one year timeframe for grant awards. The MBO said in the proposal a “sub-round” might be necessary if some undeserved and underserved areas receive no applications, and the state might seek an extension from the NTIA.

Missouri is looking to release multiple “advisory figures” for its high-cost threshold, the price at which fiber becomes expensive enough for the state to consider other technologies not favored by BEAD. Cost modeling data will be used for an initial figure before the first round of grant applications, and the number will be updated based on the applications the state receives in each round.

The state will also be using the NTIA’s updated financing guidance, which gives states more options to ensure the financial viability of a project. The new guidance makes room for performance bonds and reimbursement milestones, which tie up less money than the 25 percent letter of credit required by initial BEAD rules.

The agency made the change on November 1 after months of pushback from advocates and lawmakers, who warned small providers could be edged out by the letter of credit.

The public comment period for Missouri’s volume two is open until December 15.

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Broadband Updates

Alabama’s BEAD Initial Proposal, Volumes One and Two

The state is asking for a waiver to open up RDOF areas to BEAD applications.



Photo of an Alabama field, used with permission.

Alabama released a draft of its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment initial proposal on November 14.

It was part of a wave of states and territories that began seeking public comment on their drafts in recent weeks. All 56 have now done so.

After a 30-day comment period, states and territories are required to submit their proposals to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration by December 27. The proposals come in two volumes: volume one details how states will ground-truth broadband coverage data, and volume two outlines states’ plans for administering grant programs with their BEAD funds.

Volume one

The state is planning to adopt the NTIA’s model challenge process to accept and adjudicate claims of incorrect broadband data. The Federal Communications Commission’s largely provider-reported coverage map was used to allocate BEAD money, but is not considered accurate enough to determine which specific locations lack broadband.

Local governments, nonprofits, and broadband providers are able to submit those challenges on behalf of consumers under the model process. 

Alabama is also electing to use one of the NTIA’s optional modifications to the model process. The state’s broadband office will designate all homes and businesses receiving broadband from copper telephone lines as “underserved” – and thus eligible for BEAD-funded infrastructure. The move is an effort to replace older technology with the higher speed fiber-optic cable favored by the program.

The state will administer two optional challenge types the NTIA laid out: area and MDU challenges. States are not required to use these, but most are planning to do so.

An area challenge is initiated if six or more locations in a census block group challenge the same technology from the same provider with sufficient evidence. The provider is then required to show evidence they provide the reported service to every location in the census block group, or the entire area will be opened up to BEAD funds.

An MDU, or multiple dwelling unit, challenge is triggered when three units or 10 percent of the total units in an apartment building challenge a provider’s service. It again flips the burden of proof, requiring providers to prove they give the reported service for the entire building, not just units that submit challenges.

Alabama’s broadband office is requesting a waiver from the NTIA’s rule around enforceable commitments from other funding programs. The state wants areas set to get broadband from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to be considered unserved for the purposes of BEAD.

That fund, the state argues, has a deployment deadline too far in the future – six to eight years to BEAD’s four years – and is too prone to defaults to be a reliable alternative to BEAD.

Volume two

Alabama does not expect to have any of its $1.4 billion BEAD allocation left over after funding broadband infrastructure.

The state is planning to award that money in a single round of grant applications, but may administer a second, according to its proposal.

Like most states, Alabama won’t be setting a high-cost threshold before looking over all BEAD grant applications. That’s the price point at which the state will look to non-fiber technologies to serve the most expensive, hardest to reach areas.

Alabama’s broadband office is seeking comment on using the NTIA’s updated financing guidance, but plans on implementing it.

That updated guidance allows options which tie up less capital, like performance bonds. BEAD rules initially required a 25 percent letter of credit, which advocates and lawmakers warned could prevent small providers from participating in the program. 

The public comment period for Alabama’s initial proposal is open until December 14.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Connect20 Summit: Data-Driven Approach Needed for Digital Navigation

The NTIA’s Internet Use Survey doesn’t delve deeply enough into why people choose not to adopt broadband.



WASHINGTON, November 20, 2023 – Better data about broadband adoption is necessary to closing the digital divide in the U.S., a broadband expert said during a panel at the Connect20 Summit here.

Speaking on a panel about “The Power of Navigation Services,” the expert, Jessica Dine of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said states lack comprehensive data on why some residents remain offline. This information is essential for digital navigator programs to succeed, she said.

She highlighted the need for standardized national metrics on digital literacy and inclusion, and said that federal surveys – including the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey – provide insights on barriers to technology adoption. But more granular data is required.

She also said that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Internet Use Survey doesn’t delve deeply enough into why people choose not to adopt the internet. For instance, understanding the nuances behind the ‘not interested’ response category could unveil targeted intervention strategies.

In particular, Dine praised Louisiana and Delaware for surveying communities on their connectivity needs, including overlaying socio-economic indicators with broadband deployment data. But she said more work is required to quantify the precise challenges different populations face.

Other panelists at the session, including Michelle Thornton of the State University of New York at Oswego, emphasized the importance of tracking on-the-ground efforts by navigators themselves.

Bringing in her experience from the field of healthcare navigation, Thornton underscored the value of tracking navigator activities and outcomes. She suggested a collaborative model where state-level data collection is supplemented by detailed, community-level insights from digital navigators.

The panel was part of the Connect20 Summit held in Washington and organized by Network On, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and Broadband Breakfast.

The session was moderated by Comcast’s Kate Allison, executive director of research and digital equity at Comcast.

To stay involved with the Digital Navigator movement, sign up at the Connect20 Summit.

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