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Supply Chain Issues Delaying Fiber Builds and Concerning Industry Before Influx of New Federal Money

Industry also debated merits of fiber versus other technologies, and speeds.



Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2021 – Supply chain issues are pushing fiber deployments back and causing concern among industry that await billions in new federal money for broadband, industry participants said at Fierce Telecom’s Digital Divide Summit this week.

“Getting access to fiber, to [customer-premises equipment] equipment – it has been torturous,” Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the NTCA Rural Broadband Association said Monday. “I have companies that are now being told it will be 100 weeks to get their fiber builds – [companies] are hoarding fiber like toilet paper at this point.” The NTCA represents nearly 850 independent telecommunications companies.

On the second day of the summit Tuesday, President and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association Claude Aiken echoed concerns regarding the fiber supply chain.

“To the extent that certain folks are focusing solely on fiber – that’s going to impact supply chain for fiber type deployments and potentially make it easier to do higher speed fixed wireless deployments just solely from a supply chain standpoint,” he said. “We have seen a little bit less of a constraint on the fixed wireless side as opposed to the fiber side.”

On Monday, the Vermont Community Broadband Board said it is concerned with the increasing cost of supplies for fiber builds. The board had announced that a public-private partnership purchased $7-million worth of fiber cables at a fixed cost, but that the cooperative it had purchased it from is expected to see costs soar by 35 percent early next year.

Concerns put focus on deployment choice

While some experts at the Fierce conference insisted that fiber should be the first choice for regions trying to close the digital divide with billions coming from the recently signed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, others assert that the costs associated with it may be too high for some communities to stomach, and providers must be flexible enough to provide communities with solutions that meet their specific needs.

As such, Aiken condemned the view that fiber should be the sole choice for communities. “If we are trying to close the digital divide let’s keep all the solution on the table.”

President and Chief Operating Officer of Great Works Internet Kerem Durdag made his case for fiber infrastructure, arguing that it needed to be the foundation and standard for the industry.

“At the end of the day, it is fiber, fiber, fiber,” said Durdag. “Because whatever we are doing has to survive for the next 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 years.” He likened this rejuvenation of American broadband infrastructure to the build out of American highway infrastructure that took place in the mid-20th Century.

During the following session, Bloomfield, agreed with Durdag, lauding the resiliency of fiber in the wake of extreme whether that left 74 Kentuckians dead and a swath of the state in shambles. She explained that because there was fiber in the ground, regional entities in Mayfield were still able to use it to support emergency efforts.

She also dissented, in part, pointing to the challenges associated with fiber deployment to remote or topographically challenging environments.

“We have areas of the country that are served by large, nationwide providers that cannot make a business model on rural because rural means you have fewer subscribers, you have the same cost in the plant, you have these extra challenges,” said Bloomfield. “And when they are making competitive investments, they are making them in areas where they are going to have a hard [time getting their return on investment].”

Speeds still top of mind

Aiken also emphasized that asymmetrical internet speeds often eschewed by fiber providers provide a better value for customers, and that the symmetrical speeds are unnecessary.

“Every single use case that we have seen, thus far, from time immemorial, on the internet has been asymmetrical. Now granted, the upstream is becoming a slightly larger component, Aiken continued, “but still, the use case is still highly, highly asymmetrical. So, if you’re trying to get the biggest bang for your buck, asymmetrical is the way to go.”

Aiken argued that even for consumers who have access to gigabit services, they usually are using fewer than 10 Mbps, even at peak hours. Vice President of Access Networks Solutions for Harmonic Richard Rommes also argued that higher connectivity speeds command a disproportionate level of discussion.

“[In] my experience, marketing drives the speeds for customers and there are very few homes out there that actually need a gig currently, but the marketing language is all about one gig,” he said.

The emphasis on faster, symmetrical speeds has been a longstanding criticism levied by wireless advocates. This is at least in part because with the discussion of increasing the definition of broadband and implementing symmetrical standards inevitably comes conversations about making fiber technologies the standard communities should aspire to.

Fierce Wireless’ Digital Divide Summit began on Dec. 13 and will run through Dec. 16.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Washington Jewish Week and The Center Square, among other publications. He he covered almost every beat at Broadband Breakfast.

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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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