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Path To Gigabit Found In Pole Access and Government Program Design, Says WISPA CEO



Photo of Claude Aiken from April 2018 by New America used with permission

March 25, 2021 – Wireless broadband providers need more regulatory support to meet broadband gigabit needs on a large geographic scale, including access to poles and expanding federal programs to more providers, said Wireless Internet Service Providers Association CEO Claude Aiken.

Aiken took to the webinar stage Wednesday to discuss WISPA’s new ‘path to gigabit,’ a proposal that defines needs and goals for providing wireless broadband in the gigabit speed tier across America. It comes at a convenient time just days after three large funding bills were introduced it the House of Representatives.

For infrastructure, all the money available won’t do much good if providers can’t get into a right of way or onto a pole or a tower, Aiken said. Companies need more infrastructure support from all levels of government to lower costs and increase speed of deployment, he said, including allowing all broadband providers access to poles and rights of way.

He also argued for the removal of the requirement for broadband providers to become “eligible telecommunications carriers” for access to infrastructure or qualifying for government programs. ETCs are approved service providers through the Universal Service Administrative Company for certain government programs.

He also said “dig once” rules – those that allow providers to ride on existing infrastructure — should be required during road construction and upgrading to prevent overlap of construction projects, he said.

The ‘path to gigabit’ will also require digital adoption and inclusion, Aiken said. It should include reimbursement programs for low-income consumers and programs for digital literacy, he said.

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, its multifaceted, its more than just dollars, Aiken said. “What encapsulates our membership are those who provide solutions, who innovate, and who are nimble and flexible bringing their communities what they need, when they need it,” he said. Our companies will use whatever technology and means they need to serve customers, he said.

Our fixed wireless can do gigabit speeds today in certain contexts, but in order to deliver it on a much broader geographic basis, we need that kind of support, he said.

Critics of gigabit on fixed-wireless

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission held the first phase of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction, in which companies bid on the lowest funding they’d be willing to receive from the government to expand broadband access in rural areas, conditioned on certain speed tiers, as Broadband Breakfast explains here.

Since that auction concluded, however, some criticism has been raised that some of the winning bidders won’t be able to meet the conditions of their connection speeds. In response to that criticism, Aiken said that from a technical and financial standpoint, gigabit fixed wireless is a viable option both for current spectrum availability and for new bands that will be available in the future.

He did not comment on the technical capabilities of any specific company to deliver speeds in the gigabit tier, saying that he was confident in the FCC’s ability to determine each winner’s qualification.

Policy areas of focus for gigabit

Beside infrastructure and inclusion, to get to gigabit, Aiken described other areas of policy, including localized spectrum and subsidy program design.

Localized spectrum aims to increase accessible bands by allocating at least 200 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for non-auctioned point-to-multipoint use, on either shared or licensed-by-rule basis, he said.

It also includes shared millimeter-wave spectrum for providers to relieve congested bands in urban areas, and additional auctions for designated spectrum areas for small geographic areas available to small providers, he said. It should also mandate ‘use it or share it’ stipulations for unused licensees.

Subsidy programs should “incentivize and leverage” current providers to deliver broadband to consumers who currently lack access, Aiken said. The programs should be technology-neutral so that one form of broadband is not favored over another, based on an “evolving level” of service considered essential for education, health, safety, and based on the subscription of a “substantial majority” of residential consumers, he said.

Subsidies should prevent government-funded overbuilding, he said, and also favor small providers that can deliver service more quickly in a given residential area.

If we want to think big about solving the broadband digital divide, we need to start thinking small—meaning small companies—to deliver internet to those unserved areas, he said.

Updating broadband maps, which are the datasets that detail where service is available across the country, should be “supercharged,” Aiken said, because they are essential to spending government funds in an intelligent manner.

The FCC is currently in the process of updating the broadband mapping system from Form 477 to a new Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric, also called the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

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Verizon Suing Milwaukee to Allow New Telecom Poles Ahead of Republican National Convention

Existing infrastructure is insufficient to handle extra traffic from the 2024 Republican National Convention: Verizon.



Photo of downtown Milwaukee by Amy Meredith.

WASHINGTON, November 29, 2023 – Verizon is suing the City of Milwaukee to construct poles for its mobile wireless network.

Milwaukee denied Verizon’s request to construct poles for three small cell sites – short range antennae that increase a network’s capacity – across from the city’s Fiserv Forum arena.

The complaint, filed November 24, is looking to overturn those denials.

Verizon says the extra infrastructure is needed ahead of the 2024 Republican National Convention, which is set to be hosted at the arena. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the event is expected to draw 50,000 people, with city officials planning to bring in 4,500 extra law enforcement officers.

That heightened traffic is almost certain to be too much for Verizon’s existing network, the company said, and could lead to coverage blackouts. The city, for its part, claimed the proposed poles would “obstruct or hinder travel” and are “out of character” for the area.

The suit is one of several in which telecom companies are fighting municipalities for pole access or construction in recent years. The major infrastructure company Crown Castle has sued five cities since 2018, with Verizon and T-Mobile each going to court multiple times over the issue since 2015.

Telecommunications providers have also been butting heads with private utility companies over pole access, to the extent that the Federal Communications Commission is contemplating setting up a “rapid response team” to mediate pole attachment disputes ahead of the Biden administration’s $42.5 billion broadband expansion effort.

Those disputes often relate to timely access application reviews and the allocation of pole replacement costs associated with additional telecom equipment. The FCC has authority under the 1996 Communications Act to set the terms of pole attachment deals between telecom carriers and private utility companies. That does not include publicly owned utilities or broadband providers that are not covered by Title II of the Communications Act.

The commission’s standing policy is to prevent utilities from passing those replacement costs on to telecoms if a new pole is not “necessitated solely” by new communication equipment. 

That has not stopped disagreements, though. In thousands of public comments and meetings with commission staff, telecommunications companies have argued that utilities unfairly pass the entire cost of replacement on to them, even when poles are already unsafe and would need to be replaced regardless. Utilities say they would not normally replace the poles being used by telecom companies, either because they are structurally sound or to phase out old lines, and don’t benefit from the installation of newer poles.

The same proposed rules that would set up a rapid response team might also be a boon to telecoms. The rules would put more limits on when a utility can force an attacher to pay for pole replacements.

The FCC will vote on the rules and other measures at its December 13 meeting.

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FCC to Consider ‘Rapid Response Team’ for Pole Attachment Disputes at December Meeting

Proposed rules would also put more limits on when utilities can pass full replacement costs to telecom companies.



Photo of a utility pole by Scott Akerman.

WASHINGTON, November 28, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission is considering setting up a “rapid response team” to resolve pole attachment disputes, according to a public draft of the proposed rules.

The Rapid Broadband Assessment Team, or RBAT, would be available to resolve disagreements that “impede or delay broadband deployment,” according to the proposed rules. The team would be responsible for quickly engaging both sides of a pole attachment dispute and working to find a solution, which can include staff-supervised mediation.

If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the RBAT can place their dispute on the commission’s “Accelerated Docket,” meaning the FCC would adjudicate the issue in under 60 days. Not all disputes are eligible for the Accelerated Docket, as the tight time constraint makes it difficult to resolve novel or complex cases.

The commission is also considering requiring utility companies to provide attachers with their most recent pole inspection information. That’s an effort to avoid disputes before they start, according to the proposed rules.

Expanding broadband networks often involves attaching equipment to poles owned by utility companies. The arrangement has led to ongoing disputes on replacement costs and other issues between telecommunications and utility companies.

The FCC has authority under the 1996 Communications Act to set the terms of those pole attachment deals and is looking to have a system in place for expediting disputes ahead of the Biden administration’s $42.5 billion broadband expansion effort. That authority only stretches to the 26 states that have not passed their own laws on pole attachments.

Pole replacement costs

On pole replacement costs, one of the more contentious pole attachment issues, the proposed rules place more limits on when a utility can force an attacher to pay in full for a replacement pole. The commission’s standing policy prevents pole owners from passing off replacement costs if the new pole is not “necessitated solely” by an attacher’s equipment.

Since the commission first sought comment on the issue in 2022, telecommunications companies have argued that utilities unfairly pass the entire cost of replacement on to them, even when poles are already unsafe and would need to be replaced regardless. Utilities say they would not normally replace the poles being used by telecom companies, either because they are structurally sound or to phase out old lines, and don’t benefit from the installation of newer poles.

The draft rules would expand the commission’s definition of a “red tagged” pole, the replacement of which cannot be allocated entirely to an attacher. Under current FCC rules, a red tagged pole is one that is out of compliance with safety regulations and has been placed on a utility’s replacement schedule.

The updated definition would do away with the compliance requirement, defining a red tagged pole as one flagged for replacement for any reason other than its inability to support extra telecom equipment.

The proposed rules also explicitly clarify some situations in which replacements are not “necessitated solely” by new telecom equipment, including when a pole fails engineering standards or is already on a replacement schedule.

In addition, the rules specify that when an already defective pole needs to be replaced with a larger pole to accommodate new equipment, the attacher would only be responsible for the extra cost of the larger pole, not the cost of an equivalent pole.

If the proposed rules are approved, the FCC would also look for comments on processing bulk pole attachment applications and on changing rules on when attachers can do their own work to prepare a pole for attachments.

The measures will be voted on at the commission’s December 13 meeting.

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North Carolina Releases Final Guidance on $100 Million Pole Replacement Program

Providers may receive up to $10,000 for each utility pole they replace in unserved areas.



Photo of Nate Denny, deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology.

WASHINGTON, November 27, 2023 – North Carolina’s broadband office released on Monday final guidance for its $100 million pole replacement program.

The program, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, will reimburse broadband providers for utility pole replacement costs. Expanding networks can involve attaching equipment to those utility poles. When a pole needs to be replaced to accommodate more equipment, pole owners typically pass the cost on to attachers.

Telecommunications companies have cited this extra cost as a barrier to quick broadband deployments, something utility companies dispute. The two industries have been in conflict on the issue for years, with both continuing to push the FCC to weigh in on a cost sharing regime.

North Carolina’s plan is an effort to smooth over the issue for future broadband expansion efforts, Nate Denny, the state department of information technology’s deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity, said in a statement. 

“It addresses a significant barrier to closing the digital divide in remote parts of our state,” he said.

Under the program, broadband providers can apply for 50 percent of the replacement cost for each pole replaced, up to $10,000 per pole. Pole replacement costs in unserved areas after June 1, 2021 are eligible for reimbursement. 

The program will kick off in February 2024 and accept applications from qualified providers.

The FCC has authority in 26 states over the terms of agreements between investor-owned utilities and telecom companies, which does not include publicly owned utilities or broadband providers that solely provide internet. The agency is set to vote on updated pole attachment rules at its December meeting.

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