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Infrastructure

Pole Access Delays Cost Americans Millions a Month, Report Claims

Report recommends policymakers streamline access to poles as ‘most efficient’ means of broadband expansion.

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WASHINGTON, December 2, 2021 – Policymakers at the federal and state level must reform pole attachment policies to facilitate faster broadband deployment and unlock millions in economic benefits, according to a Connect the Future report released Thursday.

The report by Edward Lopez, a professor of economics at Western Carolina University, and pole attachment expert Patricia Kravtin concludes that allowing broadband providers to attach their equipment on utility poles “is the most efficient means to expand high-speed broadband access to currently unserved areas of the country.”

The report also estimates that delayed expansion due to hold ups at poles “costs Americans between $491 million and $1.86 billion” every month.

Service providers generally either bury telecommunications cables in the ground, which can be prohibitively expensive in remote areas of the country, or attach equipment over land on utility poles, which are often owned by electricity companies. While the latter is a standard practice, sometimes there are permit delays or disagreement on attaching fees that have created frictions.

Pole attachments will play a significant role for broadband expansion, as federal dollars pour in from sources including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law last month, and as 5G networks require more attachments.

The report determined the economic value of such a policy on a willingness-to-pay metric. That measure calculates how much more households are willing to pay per month for improvements in broadband and multiplies it by the number of locations becoming connected. For example, if 5.22 million locations become connected as a result of the Federal Communications Commission’s $9-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, that would generate a monthly WTP of $579 million. The figure is then annualized in terms of net present value over 25 years at a 5 percent discount rate. The study includes case studies in North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The “new report makes clear that as our country continues to invest public and private dollars into expanding broadband access, policymakers must take immediate action to ensure that these investments are maximized for impact to bring connectivity to rural communities without delay – and this includes reforming outdated and ineffective pole attachment rules,” Zach Cikanek, executive director of Connect the Future, said in a press release.

“Policymakers can do this by guaranteeing a faster, fairer process for utility pole access, replacements, and dispute resolution to speed the construction of broadband infrastructure so we can more quickly achieve 100% connectivity across our country,” he added.

According to Thursday’s report, utility pole owners have exercised “significant market power over pole attachment rates, terms and conditions” and “frequently impose onerous timetables, unfeasible permitting fees, and various pre- and post-construction requirements, including full pole replacements ahead of scheduled replacement, as part of ‘make-ready’ procedures required prior to the actual attachment to the pole.”

There have been a number of lawsuits popping up in courts across the country that have involved large telecoms trying to gain cost efficient and timely access to those poles.  Last year, the Federal Communications Commission found Verizon paid “unjust” pole attachment fees to a utility company in Maryland, as it billed the maximum rate possible.

And earlier this year, the FCC alleviated some burdens by ruling that investor-owned utilities cannot charge new attachers for pole replacements if they are not the sole cause for the replacement. This stems from telecom companies having to front the cost for replacing a pole if an assessment shows that adding new equipment would warrant the change.

Managing Editor Ahmad Hathout has spent the last half-decade reporting on the Canadian telecommunications and media industries for leading publications. He started the scoop-driven news site downup.io to make Canadian telecom news more accessible and digestible. Follow him on Twitter @ackmet.

Infrastructure

AT&T Goes to Court over FCC Decision on Pole Attachment Rates

AT&T said it should pay a similar rate to other telecommunications attachers.

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WASHINGTON, February 6, 2023 – AT&T has gone to court over a Federal Communications Commission decision last fall that said it is not entitled to a lower attachment rate on Duke Energy Progress poles than other telecommunications attachers.

The commission had determined, in response to petitions from AT&T and Duke, that the incumbent telephone carrier paid too much to utility Duke to access its poles. However, because AT&T had an agreement with Duke that conferred onto it advantages not given to other attachers, the commission determined that the telecom would not pay a comparable lower rate as those other attachers.

AT&T filed a complaint to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last month saying it should pay the rate that the FCC considers comparable to cable companies and other third party attachers that are disadvantaged in the agreement process.

“AT&T is adversely affected by certain parts of the Order because the Federal Communications Commission granted AT&T’s pole attachment complaint only in part,” the company said in its complaint against the November decision. “The Order requires AT&T to pay a substantially higher rate for use of Duke’s poles than the just, reasonable, and fully compensatory new telecom rate AT&T’s competitors pay for use of comparable space on the same utility poles.”

In asking for a dismissal of the order, AT&T is asking the court to find the parts in question of the FCC decision violate the Administrative Procedures Act and “are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

The FCC makes determinations on costs to attach to utility poles to ensure that they are “just and reasonable” under the Telecommunications Act. Attaching to poles is a critical component of broadband buildouts. The commission set up a framework to determine what’s a fair rate.

It set a rate ceiling in a 2018 order because incumbent telephone company bargaining power and pole ownership versus utilities had, by then, been in decline. In effect, it revised a presumption set in 2011 that incumbent telephone companies had superior bargaining power versus other telecom attachers and replaced it with the presumption – which took effect in March 2019 – that the two attachers “are similarly situated” and therefore entitled to “comparable” rates.

The caveat to the 2018 order, however, was that the new incumbent telco rates would take effect only if the agreement with the utility was signed after the order’s effective date. Because AT&T and Duke had an existing agreement before 2019, the FCC said it did not qualify for the new rate. It was thus subject to the old telecom rate as a reference.

The FCC concluded that, despite AT&T being entitled to a lower rate, the existing agreement between it and Duke provides AT&T “with benefits that materially advantage it compared to other attachers on the same poles.”

The decision added AT&T is entitled to a pole attachment rate that “does not exceed the Old Telecom Rate, covering the entire timeframe at issue.”

The commission is currently examining whether utilities should share in the cost of replacing those poles, which are often born by the requesting attacher.

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5G

Innovation Fund’s Global Approach May Improve O-RAN Deployment: Commenters

The $1.5 billion Innovation Fund should be used to promote global adoption, say commenters.

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Illustration about intelligent edge computing from Deloitte Insights

WASHINGTON, February 2, 2023 – A global approach to funding open radio access networks will improve its success in the United States, say commenters to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The NTIA is seeking comment on how to implement the $1.5 billion appropriated to the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund as directed by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The grant program is primarily responsible for supporting the promotion and deployment of open, interoperable, and standards-based radio access networks. 

Radio access networks provide critical technology to connect users to the mobile network over radio waves. O-RAN would create a more open ecosystem of network equipment that would otherwise be reliant on proprietary technology from a handful of companies.  

Global RAN

Commenters to the NTIA argue that in order for O-RAN to be successful, it must be global. The Administration must take a “global approach” when funding projects by awarding money to those companies that are non-U.S.-based, said mobile provider Verizon in its comments.  

To date, new entrants into the RAN market have been the center for O-RAN development, claimed wireless service provider, US Cellular. The company encouraged the NTIA to “invest in proven RAN vendors from allied nations, rather than focusing its efforts on new entrants and smaller players that lack operational expertise and experience.” 

Korean-based Samsung Electrontics added that by allowing trusted entities with a significant U.S. presence to compete for project funding and partner on those projects, the NTIA will support standardizing interoperability “evolution by advancing a diverse global market of trusted suppliers in the U.S.” 

O-RAN must be globally standardized and globally interoperable, Verizon said. Funding from the Public Wireless Innovation Fund will help the RAN ecosystem mature as it desperately needs, it added.  

Research and development

O-RAN continues to lack the maturity that is needed for commercial deployment, agreed US Cellular in its comments. The company indicated that the complexity and costliness of system integration results from there being multiple vendors that would need to integrate but are not ready for full integration. 

Additionally, interoperability with existing RAN infrastructure requires bi-lateral agreements, customized integration, and significant testing prior to deployment, the comment read. The complicated process would result in O-RAN increasing the cost of vendor and infrastructure deployment, claimed US Cellular, directly contrary to the goals of O-RAN. 

Several commenters urged the NTIA to focus funding projects on research and development rather than subsidizing commercial deployments.  

The NTIA is already fully engaged in broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas through its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, said Verizon. The Innovation Fund will better advance its goals by funding projects that accelerate the solving of remaining O-RAN technical challenges that continue to delay its deployment, it continued. 

US Cellular argued that the NTIA should “spur deployment of additional independent testing and certification lab facilities… where an independent third party can perform end to end testing, conformance, and certification.” 

The Innovation Fund should be used to focus on technology development and solving practical challenges, added wireless trade association, CTIA. Research can focus on interoperability, promotion of equipment that meets O-RAN specifications, and projects that support hardware design and energy efficiency, it said. 

Furthermore, CTIA recommended that the Administration avoid interfering in how providers design their networks to encourage providers to adopt O-RAN in an appropriate manner for their company. Allowing a flexible, risk-based approach to O-RAN deployments will “help ensure network security and stability,” it wrote. 

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Europe

Helge Tiainen: Fiber Access Extension Eases Connectivity Worries for Operators, Landlords and Tenants

A new law presents an opportunity to reuse existing infrastructure for fiber broadband deployment.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Helge Tiainen, head of product management, marketing and sales at InCoax.

Previously, tenants living in the United Kingdom’s estimated 480,000 blocks of flats and apartments had to wait for a landlord’s permission to have a broadband operator enter their building to install faster connectivity. But that is no longer the case.

At the beginning of the year, a new UK law change meant that millions of UK tenants are no longer prevented from receiving a broadband upgrade due to the silence of their landlords. The Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Act allows internet service providers to access a block of flats 35 days after the ISP’s request to the landlord. It is estimated that an extra 2,100 residential buildings a year will be connected as a result.

Broadband companies have advised that currently around 40 percent of their requests for access to install connections in multi-dwelling units are delayed or blocked, due to no landlord response. Undoubtedly, tenants residing in these flats and apartment blocks are those most effected by a lack of accessibility to ultra-fast connectivity. So, how can ISPs grasp this newfound opportunity?

Harnessing the existing infrastructure

For many ISPs, MDUs pose a market that is largely untapped in the UK. Why is this? Well, for starters, typically these types of properties present logistical challenges, and are lower down in the pecking order in terms of the low hanging fruits readily available when it comes to installing fiber to the premises. The more attractive prospects are buildings in densely populated areas that can be covered easily with gigabit broadband.

Whereas, MDUs have typically been those underserved. Signing a broadband contract with a customer in a single-family unit is easier than an MDU as it involves securing permissions from building and apartment owners for construction works, as well as numerous tenants. For those ISPs tasked with upgrading tenants’ existing broadband connections, there are other challenges prevalent such as rising costs, wiring infrastructure changes and contract requirements, including minimum take-up rates.

So, there has been no better time to use the existing infrastructure readily available within the property. A fiber-only strategy can be supplemented if fiber to the extension point is employed where necessary. A multi-gigabit broadband service can be delivered at a lower cost and reach more customers over existing infrastructure for a short section of wire leading to the customer premises and inside the premises.

Bringing gigabit connectivity floor to floor

The UK government hopes that 85% of the UK will be able to access gigabit fixed broadband by 2025. However, installing fiber to every flat can be a challenge that is expensive, labor-intensive and disruptive to customers. Landlords may be hesitant to grant permissions due to the aforementioned reasons and potential cosmetic damage caused. Historically, fiber deployments in MDUs can be as much as 40% of fiber to the building deployment costs.

MDU buildings have existing coaxial networks, and reusing this infrastructure is a tangible possibility and time-saving alternative for ISPs instead of installing fiber direct to the premises. Which can be costly if the take-up rate is low for new services. The coaxial networks in MDUs can be used in an innovative way as in-building TV networks are upgraded to support higher frequency spectrums thanks to the analogue switchover to digital TV services.

ISPs can potentially opt to use fiber access extension technology for a cost-effective and less complex upgrade of broadband as it utilizes the existing in-house coax cable infrastructure. The technology provides multi-gigabit broadband services, positioning it as a clear frontrunner when optical fiber cannot be deployed due to construction limitations, a lack of ducts, building accessibility, and technical or historical preservation reasons.

Time for change

Not only does this landmark new law allow ISPs to seek rights to access a flat or an apartment if the landlord required to grant access is unresponsive, but it also prevents any situations where a tenant is unable to receive a service simply due to the silence of a landlord.

This is a crucial opportunity to reuse existing infrastructure for broadband access as TILPA enables subscribers and service providers to circumvent landlords who fail to provide access permission.

As many ISPs look to seamlessly execute their fiber deployment strategies, using cost-effective solutions can accelerate the addressable number of subscribers and allow for a major return on investment.

As head of product management, marketing and sales at InCoax, Helge Tiainen is responsible for developing sales and marketing of existing products and new business opportunities among cable, telecom and mobile operators by developing use cases and technologies within standard organizations as Broadband Forum, MoCA, Small Cell Forum and other working groups. He also manages partnerships of key technology partners suited with InCoax initiatives. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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