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The Pole Attachment Controversy Shadows the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee

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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.)

 

 

 

Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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