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Infrastructure

States Should Subsidize Pole Replacement Costs, Charter Says

The issue of pole attachment costs to place broadband equipment is being examined by the FCC.

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Screenshot of Marva Johnson by Teralyn Whipple

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2022 – Utility pole replacement funds should be sponsored by states to alleviate concern on the part of service providers often responsible to bear such costs, said an executive for Charter Communications.

Marva Johnson, spectrum group vice president for cable company Charter, was speaking at a Federal Communications Bar Association event Monday, which heard that utility poles are essential for broadband deployment. These poles, lined over ground, are often more economically feasible than putting cables underground.

“Utility poles are truly essential for broadband deployment,” said Johnson, adding that other options are not readily available. “Aerial deployment was [found to be] faster and less expensive than undergrounding,” she said. Charter estimates that “8 percent of utility poles need to be replaced in order to facilitate broadband deployment.”

But when providers want to put new equipment on an existing pole and the pole would need to be replaced to accommodate the new attachments, then the pole owner would pass the cost along to the third-party. That, Johnson said, makes broadband service providers the primary victim for pole replacement costs

Some states have issued a disbursement fund to offset the utility pole replacement cost through a state-sponsored grant program, following service provider concerns that pole owners are using their leverage to unfairly increase costs for attachments, which in turn limits broadband deployment to rural areas.

Letha Tawney, commissioner at Oregon Public Utility Commission, said utility companies are also facing increased maintenance costs for utility poles across the nation resulting from wildfires, severe storms, and climate change.

The issue of replacing poles has already captured the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which is currently studying the issue of pole attachment costs.

Infrastructure

What to Know About Build America, Buy America Provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

Will providers be required to use equipment that is not readily available within the United States?

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It’s a central concern looming over the broadband industry as it prepares for a massive infusion of federal funds for infrastructure deployment: Will the providers of fiber optic networks be required to use equipment that is not readily available within the United States?

In mid-January, the Fiber Broadband Association sent a letter to Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, about an issue the group said was “harming project planning and investment.”

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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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