WASHINGTON, June 7, 2022 – A contentious debate about whether the Federal Communications Commission should force pole-attachment rates to expedite broadband deployment shows no signs of abating.
During a Broadband Breakfast Live Online conversation on the topic in late April, representatives from utilities split from representatives of broadband providers and nonprofits, arguing for changes to current FCC policies.
The event, which took place on April 27, examined ratepayer experience in terms of pole access, with significant contribution from Western Carolina University professor of economics Edward Lopez as he brought his experiences conducting research on how much from a quantitative perspective current policy on poles truly serves public interest.
Lopez pointed to a lack of competition in pole attachment as holding up public welfare and has found, through his studies, particular problems with this in North Carolina.
It is not a lack of investment into pole attachment which causes gaps in broadband service, he said. noting considerable attention to and funding for broadband through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
“The investment is there,” said Lopez.
According to Lopez, Florida and Kentucky are two of the states where delays like this that prevent expansion of connectivity create the most pronounced financial losses.
Others the panel, including internet provider Charter Communications’ vice president of policy Marc Paul, praised the commission’s efforts to expedite pole attachments.
Utilities Technology Council CEO Sheryl Riggs said that to develop effective policy, broadband ratepayers must become involved in the discussion of possibilities.
“We need to get them involved, educated and in conversations as well so that they can provide insight and input,” said Riggs.
Riggs emphasized the need for collaboration between all entities involved in policymaking, such as her own UTC, with governmental bodies rather than just relying on FCC to resolve all issues surrounding pole attachment.
She noted that federal statute does not require utilities to replace the poles that hold fiber lines during ongoing servicing to expand broadband, but that the utility companies have done and will continue to do so in the interest of working to improve service for the public.
In the absence of successful, substantive action on pole policy, Riggs cautioned that project costs could just float down to ratepayers and prevent policymakers from being able to say they increasing access in unserved and underserved areas.
“If it’s going to come down to the utilities and then it’s going to just float to the ratepayers then have we really resolved the issue of deploying broadband to unserved areas, or underserved areas?” she asked.
Wednesday, April 27, 2022, 12 Noon ET – New Wires on Old Poles: Will the FCC Change Rules for Attachments?
The Federal Communications Commission has recently proposed rulemaking to resolve disputes surrounding pole replacement and attachment. Several industry groups have long sought out such action. Do the FCC’s actions go far enough? What did they get right, and what approaches need adjustment? Join us for this Broadband Breakfast event as panelists offer their views on this ongoing issue.
- Sheryl Riggs, CEO, Utilities Technology Council
- Aryeh Fishman, Associate General Counsel, Edison Electric Institute
- Edward Lopez, Professor, Western Carolina University
- John Windhausen, Executive Director, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition
- Marc Paul, Vice President, Policy, Charter Communications
- Drew Clark (presenter and host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast
- “FCC Seeks Comment on Pole Replacement Rules,” Broadband Breakfast, March 18, 2022
- “Pole Access Delays Cost Americans Millions a Month, Report Claims,” Broadband Breakfast, December 2, 2021
- Waiting for Broadband Access: The Pole Access and Replacement Timeline, Connect the Future, April 2022
- Advancing Pole Attachment Policies to Accelerate National Broadband Buildout, Connect the Future, November 2021
- Utility Pole Policy: A Cost-Effective Prescription for Achieving Full Broadband Access in North Carolina, NCCTA, August 18, 2021
- Draft FCC Pole Attachment FNPRM Gets Industry Backing, Communications Daily, March 9, 2022
- “The Backbone of Broadband Infrastructure: Understanding the Importance of Utility Poles,” Video by Connect the Future
Sheryl Osiene-Riggs was named UTC’s President and CEO in June 2020, after serving as Interim President and CEO and Senior Vice President, Finance and Operations. Prior to joining UTC, she worked with organizations in the banking/finance, education, and health and social services industries. Ms. Riggs earned her Bachelor’s degree from Howard University, and she also conferred two Master’s degrees in Accounting and Human Resources Management.
Aryeh Fishman serves as Associate General Counsel, Regulatory Legal Affairs, for the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the trade association representing U.S. investor-owned electric companies that collectively own and operate vast overhead electric systems, including utility poles, as part of the electric industry’s mission to provide reliable, safe, secure, and efficient delivery of power to the public. He has worked on a broad variety of legal and public policy issues impacting the investor-owned electric industry, including pole attachments, colocation, middle mile fiber deployments, and spectrum.
Edward Lopez is Professor of Economics, BB&T Distinguished Professor of Capitalism, and Director of the Center for the Study of Free Enterprise at Western Carolina University. He has taught university economics for over two decades and has authored over 60 scholarly publications and two books. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University, where his fields of concentration were public economics and industrial organization.
John Windhausen serves as the Executive Director of the the SHLB Coalition, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) public interest advocacy organization that strives to close the digital divide by promoting open, affordable, high-quality broadband for anchor institutions and their communities. He founded the coalition in 2009 with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He spearheads SHLB’s membership growth and shapes its broadband policy recommendations.
Marc Paul is Vice President, Policy and External Affairs at Charter Communications. During his career, Mr. Paul has held positions as a Legal Advisor to a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, as Senior Counsel to a U.S. Senator, and the position of Of Counsel for two private law firms. Mr. Paul holds a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a BA from Cornell University.
Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.
As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.
Google Fiber Says it Welcomes Overbuilding, Competition for Lower Prices and Better Services
Comments were made at the Fiber Connect conference last week.
NASHVILLE, June 21, 2022 – A representative from Google Fiber said Wednesday at the Fiber Connect conference that the company is encouraged by competition in the fiber space because it leads to partnerships, lower costs for consumers and greater coverage.
Jessica George said that more partners and more people working in the broadband space will encourage more competition, which will drop prices and increase speeds.
She added that Google has been a long-time proponent for overbuilding, where providers build their infrastructure in areas already covered. More competition in the fiber space promotes overbuilding, which ensures greater coverage and connectivity for consumers in that area, she said.
Jay Winn, chief customer officer at fiber provider Lumos Networks, added that Lumos’s strategy is to be “first with fiber” by connecting all homes and businesses in its territory to fiber – at the cost of occasional overbuilding.
Ultimately, the conflict lies between companies that oppose greater competition in favor of protecting their territory and those that encourage competition in favor of creating more opportunities for their consumers, said George.
“What do [ISPs] really believe makes this industry, makes our world, makes our communities better?” asked George.
Leaders of Broadband Industry Trade Groups Are Bullish on Fiber, With Some Caveats
Fiber networks have a unique capacity to keep broadband prices low for low-income communities, proponents say.
NASHVILLE, June 16, 2022 – Leaders of the broadband industry concurred that because fiber delivers fast, affordable broadband connectivity for generations, almost all new broadband deployments will be delivered with the technology.
Speaking on a panel on the closing day of Fiber Connect on Wednesday, however, this group of trade association leaders differed with each other on how quickly cable and wireless providers would pivot away from those technologies and to all-fiber deployments.
Bringing rival groups together, including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the rural broadband telecom association NTCA and the cable industry group ACA Connects, Fiber Broadband Association CEO Gary Bolton said the purpose was to “unite everyone in the industry to do things for generations to come.”
Fiber networks are uniquely positioned for investing in the future as they have capacity to support higher speeds without replacement or upgrades to the infrastructure, Bolton said. That can keep costs low for customers in future generations. He was not contradicted on the essence of those points by this cohort of trade group leaders.
He also said that fiber will help solve the affordability barrier that exists for low-income families, and the future investments were essential as demands for speed will increase.
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, agreed that the Biden administration’s decision to favor fiber in broadband investment was appropriate.
“There is still some competitiveness among technologies,” she said. “Even after the [Notice of Funding Opportunity] on the [Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program], I still got some kind of snarky comments from other folks in the industry” who believe that it is not right to push fiber everywhere.
ACA Connect leader differed slightly with the everything-must-be-fiber approach
America’s Communications Association Connects CEO Matt Polka differed a bit with Bolton’s everything-must-be-fiber approach.
Cable industry providers have demonstrated during the pandemic “the ability to keep this country connected with broadband with capacity to spare because of the prior investment that occurred in the four to five years before that.”
Cognizant that he was speaking at Fiber Connect, Polka said, “there is a bias toward fiber.”
But he instead urged that “whatever the technology is needed in that community, we will find a way to” provide it, he said.
“Oftentimes [Internet Service Providers] will increase speeds to customers without raising prices,” added Paul Breakman, vice president of business and technology strategies at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Giving customers more speed makes the cost of broadband come down everywhere.
“That’s the kind of thing that we can do with this [fiber] technology with greater capacity,” he said.
“We have proved that you cannot, in many ways, survive unless you have broadband in the home,” Breakman continued, adding that affordability is essential for low-income families who need the benefits of broadband connection but could not otherwise afford it.
Reporter Teralyn Whipple contributed to this article.
AT&T Says Gigabit Download Speed Demand Continues to Grow
‘We’re projecting a 5x increase in data consumption from 2021 to 2025.’
NASHVILLE, June 15, 2022 – The demand for gigabit-speed fiber connectivity continues to grow, said company representatives during a Fiber Connect conference session on Tuesday, as some companies are testing download speeds beyond what’s currently available.
“We’re projecting a 5x increase in data consumption from 2021 to 2025,” said Chris Altomari, vice president of broadband network product management for AT&T. “There’s no evidence that suggests it’s going to slow down in the next couple of years.”
The comments come after AT&T announced Friday that it has reached 20 Gigabits per second symmetric speeds on its network in a test. The company said in a press release that the speeds were achieved with “minimal infrastructure upgrades” and runs on the same fiber optic cables that it currently uses.
“Fiber is the answer and multi-gigabit speeds are the answer,” Altomari added. “I’m seeing the need for multi-gig and maybe not just the need, but reliance.”
The comments also come after an official from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration said the agency, which is handling $42.5 billion in broadband infrastructure funds to give to the states, has a preference for fiber infrastructure versus other technologies, such as wireless or fixed-wireless.
Ashley Church, a general manager at Google Fiber, added that fiber demand is increasing as customers find innovative ways to use the internet that require the faster speeds that fiber can provide. “The internet has become what it has become because of these increasing speeds.”
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