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Utilities, Broadband Providers Split on Pole Attachment Rate Policy

Utilities Technology Council CEO Sheryl Riggs questioned whether broadband access is expanded if costs just float to ratepayers.

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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.

In March, the FCC voted to seek comment on how utilities and pole attachers would share in the costs of pole replacements.

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.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

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.

Panelists:

  • 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

Panelist resources:

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.

Photo by Nicolás Gutierrez londoño from PxHere used with permission

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

Reporter T.J. York received his degree in political science from the University of Southern California. He has experience working for elected officials and in campaign research. He is interested in the effects of politics in the tech sector.

Open Access

Financing Mechanisms for Community Broadband, Panel 3 at Digital Infrastructure Investment

Panel 3 video. Join the Broadband Breakfast Club to watch the full-length videos from Digital Infrastructure Investment.

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Video from Panel 3 at Digital Infrastructure Investment: Kim McKinley, Chief Marketing Officer, UTOPIA Fiber, Jeff Christensen, President & CEO, EntryPoint Networks, Jane Coffin, Chief Community Officer, Connect Humanity, Robert Wack, former Westminster Common Council President and leader of the Open Access Citywide Fiber Network Initiative, and moderated by Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Networks, Institute for Local Self-Reliance

For a free article summarizing the event, see Communities Need Governance Seat on Broadband Builds, Conference Hears: Communities need to be involved in decision-making when it comes to broadband builds, Broadband Breakfast, November 17, 2022

Access Premium content for Broadband Breakfast Club members. Login to your account below. Or visit Broadband Breakfast Club to signup.

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Fiber

Fiber Providers Need to Go Beyond Speed for Differentiation, Consultant Says

40 percent are unsure of their home internet speeds, said Jonathan Chaplin of New Street Research.

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Photo of Jonathan Chaplin, managing partner at New Street Research

WASHINGTON, November 9, 2022 – Despite fiber’s fast broadband speeds, providers must innovate and offer other benefits – like content bundling – to maintain market share as customers increasingly make purchasing decisions based on non-speed factors, argued Jonathan Chaplin, managing partner at New Street Research, a telecommunications and technology research firm.

“Our message to the cable industry is: Stop marketing on speed, put everybody on the gigabit tier, and start differentiating on everything else,” Chaplin said at a Fiber Broadband Association event Wednesday.

Chaplin also urged fiber providers to prepare to enter the wireless market, saying that wireless and broadband will soon “converge into one marketplace.

“It’s not a major differentiator or driver of consumers’ decisions today, but you need to start working on this as a product category to be ready for it by the time it [is],” he added.

And raw speed won’t be enough to attract customers, Chaplin argued. Although consumers say speed and price are the two top factors when considering internet plans, he said, his research shows that 40 percent are unsure of their home internet speeds.

Typical speeds have greatly increased in recent years, and Chaplin said faster service provides no perceptible benefit to most customers once certain speeds are reached. According to his data, “Increases in speed (above 200 Mbps) really have no impact on the satisfaction of a household with their broadband provider.”

Fixed-wireless uptake shows speed isn’t always king

The rise of fixed-wireless providers, who usually don’t advertise on speed, further demonstrates that consumers are willing to make purchase decisions on other factors, Chaplin argued. In fact, his research shows that many new fixed-wireless customers did not make the switch due to speed complaints.

“If you’re in the fiber business, you’re in a strong position. You’ve got a product that wins in the market today, but you cannot afford to be complacent,” Chaplin said. “The battleground for consumers is going to shift and you need to be ready for shift when it comes,” he added.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering a proposal to mandate “broadband nutrition labels,” which proponents say would help consumers understand the details of their internet plans. Researchers at the TPRC 2022 conference in September suggested that such labels should include “interpretive” data to explain the real-world implications of technical metrics. TPRC speakers also echoed Chaplin’s claim increased speeds do not necessarily correlate with higher customer satisfaction rates.

Industry players differ on substantive policy points surrounding the proposal, however, including whether labels should be mandatorily included on month internet bills.

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Fiber

COVID Funds Ensuring NTIA Broadband Infrastructure Funding Adequate: Conexon Executive

‘The way you close the digital divide is you build fiber to every single rural home,’ Jonathan Chambers said.

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Photo of Jonathan Chambers, partner at Conexon

WASHINGTON, October 17, 2022 – Millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, which are currently being deployed by states to extend broadband networks, is helping ensure that new broadband money allocated from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act will be sufficient to extend fiber to all homes in America, said a telecom executive on a Fiber Broadband Association web event Wednesday.

Since many states are using ARPA funding to deploy new networks, fewer than ten million locations will “be left for BEAD after ARPA,” said Jonathan Chambers, partner at rural internet service provider co-op Conexon, referring to the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Since the American Rescue Plan became law in March 2021, federal programs – including the Capital Projects Fund and the Emergency Connectivity Program – and state governments have put tens of billions of ARPA-appropriated dollars towards broadband various projects.

Chambers, whose company builds fiber networks and works primarily with rural electric cooperatives, said he wants to refute the arguments of fiber skeptics by going “to the hardest-to-serve, poorest places in the country and demonstrate you can build fiber there,” saying the company is working to build a fiber network to every home and business in East Carrol Parish, Louisiana.

An argument against fiber builds in rural areas has been the expense required to do so.

The BEAD program will dispense block grants to the states based on relative need. States will issue subgrants for broadband infrastructure and other projects. Pro-fiber advocates like Chambers and FBA President Gary Bolton support using these funds primarily for fiber deployments.

“The way you close the digital divide is you build fiber to every single rural home,” Chambers said.

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