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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.

Assistant 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

Funding

NTIA Official Says Rural Broadband Funds Do Not Disqualify Area from New Broadband Monies

While NTIA will interpret grant funding under the law, it’s up to states to determine where to allocate money.

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Justin Perkins and Scott D. Woods on a Zoom video call

January 19, 2022 – The federal government agency charged with the task of doling out the $42.5 billion of broadband infrastructure funding hasn’t ruled out the idea of letting grant applicants use the money allocated to them from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to cover areas that will also be covered from grants given to projects from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The Commerce Department’s Scott D. Woods said the “policy team is working on [this]” and to “stay tuned” to further announcements. As a general rule, areas don’t “have federal assets for the similar purposes in the same area,” but there are “nuances to that.”

Woods is the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the agency’s Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth.

He made the remark during a recent “Ask Me Anything” interview with Broadband Breakfast Reporter Justin Perkins. Broadband Breakfast is a sister publication to Broadband.Money and is a privately-run media and conference company headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Grant applicants concerned about this specific issue should submit questions about it for the record in comments they should submit to the NTIA, Woods said. All comments are due February 4, 2022.

The Federal Register notice and instructions on how to file comments is here.

More information, including the NTIA’s  scoring criteria for grant applications, will be found in the Notice of Funding Opportunity coming out in May.

Doug Dawson, an influential broadband consultant of CCG Consulting (and blogger) wrote a blog post early January implying that RDOF covered areas wouldn’t be eligible for IIJA grant funding.

During the AMA, Woods took questions from the Broadband.Money community and discussed IIJA’s compatibility with RDOF, expectations for state plans, private-public partnerships, and the role of the community.

While the NTIA will be interpreting the terms of the grant funding as laid out in the IIJA, it’s up to the states to determine where to allocate the money.

The “state plans…ultimately have to reflect the needs of the unserved [and] underserved communities,” Woods said.

Perkins also emphasized how important it is “for the communities to give their input sooner rather than later, so that the NTIA can develop regulations that are really going to reflect the needs that these broadband programs are asking for.”

Despite the expedited timetable laid out in the IIJA, Woods said that states should be ready to submit rigorously-planned proposals to the NTIA when they ask for federal funding for their five-year broadband plans.

Some states don’t have any formal broadband offices in place, but most already have some basic organizational structures. Woods said that the NTIA is there to help states that might need more hand-holding through the grant application process.

Role of public-private partnerships

Woods also discussed the importance of private-public partnerships.

These partnerships will help with infrastructure, as well as “equity, inclusion, [and] adoption,” he said.

Public-private partnerships are built on “trust and transparency,” said Woods.

“There’s a lot of work to do, as well,” said Woods. “Trust is based on your words and your actions.”

One community member asked when the NTIA will announce its decisions on its $288 million for broadband infrastructure program, a separate broadband program funded under the 2021 appropriation bill. Woods said to check NTIA’s website, and that these announcements will be coming “soon.”

Woods also emphasized the importance of the role of the community to the forthcoming years-long broadband buildout. Everyone need to “provide information, to provide data, to provide feedback on what’s needed in the community.”

Instead of favoring one technology over another, such as fiber over wireless, the NTIA is going to “leave it to the states…to adopt what best works for them and their communities.”

“There’s a role for all technologies,” he said.

A version of this piece was originally published on Broadband.Money on January 19, 2022. You can find out more about Broadband.Money‘s past and future events and AMAs here. Don’t forget to come and participate in our discussion on Friday over who should receive IIJA money, in your opinion, and our Friday, January 28, 2022, Ask Me Anything! event With Ben Bawtree-Jobson, CEO @ SiFI Networks.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Ookla Fourth Quarter Report Puts T-Mobile as Fastest, Most Consistent Wireless Provider

T-Mobile ranks fastest mobile provider, improving on third quarter performance.

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T-Mobile president Mike Sievert

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2022 — Metrics company Ookla reported Tuesday that speed test data from the fourth quarter of last year show that T-Mobile was the fastest and most consistent mobile operator, the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max is the top device in terms of popularity and download speeds, and Google is the top manufacturer when it comes to download and upload speeds.

The latest report, for the months of October, November and December, showed T-Mobile’s median download speed was 90.65 Megabits per second, while runner-up AT&T had a median download speed of 49.25 Mbps and Verizon came in at 44.67 Mbps. The District of Columbia had the fastest median mobile download speeds in the United States with 100.38 Mbps, with T-Mobile being the fastest mobile provider in 42 states.

T-Mobile also had a significant jump in terms of 5G performance, said the Tuesday report. In the third quarter, T-Mobile’s median 5G download speed was 135.27 Mbps, while Tuesday’s report shows their median 5G download speed was 187.12. Verizon came second with a median speed of 78.2 Mbps and AT&T was third with a median speed of 68.82 Mbps.

In the United States, the fastest popular device manufacturer was Google. Google’s median download speed was 60.82 Mbps, Samsung’s was 52.80, and Apple’s was 52.76.

However, the iPhone 13 Pro Max was the most popular and fastest device overall, with a median download speed of 90.58 Mbps and the iPhone 13 Pro following closely behind at 89.61 Mbps.

In the report, only Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile were mentioned as internet providers, and Apple, Google, and Samsung were the only device manufacturers included.

Each month, Ookla collects data from Speedtest users to report the internet speed at their location, and the data from those tests are used to generate their quarterly reports.

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Funding

Digital Equity the Focus at NTIA’s Listening Session on Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act

Attendees questioned how digital equity progress can be measured and how underserved populations are educated on technology use.

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Moderator Adam Geisler, national tribal government liaison with the First Responder Network Authority

WASHINGTON, January 14, 2022 – Through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s efforts to hold listening sessions for the public to ask questions on grant programs provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, digital equity has emerged as a key concern.

In the second of five listening sessions, questioners emphasized digital equity issues for underserved communities such as Native tribes, proposing a digital equity scorecard to assess the effects of government programs in unconnected areas and suggesting implementation of further adult education programs to improve technological knowledge.

This specific session Wednesday sought input on:

  • Ways Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program funds could be used to connect communities.
  • New ways IIJA programs could promote broadband affordability including how middle mile should be targeted to promote affordable last mile.
  • How the NTIA could ensure contact between states with tribal entities to promote broadband access and digital equity.

Another key focus among questioners was on logistics of broadband infrastructure builds.

Concerned broadband officials say there is a shortage of technicians to work on building infrastructure projects, and that funds should be used to support programs in technical schools that would train construction workers and bolster workforce numbers.

Additionally, there is concern over many project applications being considered overbuilding – building networks in areas with existing broadband infrastructure – and getting denied despite many broadband policy experts not actually considering them overbuilding.

Questioners at the session continued to push for more granular mapping that compiles data below the census block level as well as for more affordable middle mile.

Further, they emphasized that the NTIA must take steps to address challenges that smaller broadband networks and co-ops, which they say often provide better broadband service than larger networks, face in applying for funding due to being less skilled at completing applications than larger networks.

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