Broadband Trade Group Continues Lobbying on Railroad Crossings

Right-of-way disputes regularly hold up deployments, providers said.

Broadband Trade Group Continues Lobbying on Railroad Crossings

WASHINGTON, October 25, 2023 – INCOMPAS is continuing to lobby Congress and federal agencies to address railroad companies allegedly stonewalling broadband deployments, the internet trade group said on Wednesday.

Railroad right-of-way negotiations routinely hold up broadband infrastructure projects through charging excessive fees and long processing times, said Virginia broadband provider Gary Wood at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online panel.

His company received federal funds to expand coverage during the pandemic, he said, but had to avoid crossing railroad tracks because of deployment deadlines.

“Every one of our projects, we stopped at the railroad tracks, because it needed to be done in three to four months,” he said. “We knew it was just impossible.”

The trade group, whose members include some major broadband providers, has had success on this front in the House of Representatives, said Caroline Booth Olsen, INCOMPAS’s director of communications and legislative affairs.

INCOMPAS worked with Representative Troy Balderson, R-OH, on the American Broadband Deployment Act, which would preempt some local rules on rights-of-way and set expedited timelines for broadband project approvals.

But that effort to streamline broadband permitting has stalled since reaching the House floor on October 2. Republicans have been unable to choose a speaker for three weeks, only finally electing Rep. Mike Johnson, R-LA, to the position Wednesday afternoon.

“We wanted to put every resource we had into this,” she said. “We’re working with some great partners in the Senate right now, and we’re having discussions with the FCC and the FRA.”

In those discussions, she said, the group is pushing for a regulatory framework for railroad rights-of-way deals with broadband and telecom providers, similar to the Federal Communications Commission rules around pole attachments. The commission sets some terms of those deals and guarantees telecom providers access to poles.

The effort is happening against the backdrop of a Virginia lawsuit broadband providers will be watching. The Association of American Railroads is suing the state over a law passed in March that makes it easier for broadband providers to cross railroads.

The law caps fees for those crossings at $2,000 in most cases and gives railroad companies 35 days to review project applications. Railroads argue those fees are unjustly low and the expedited time frame poses safety risks, said Alan Poole, a communications attorney at law firm Troutman Pepper.

Filed in July, the case is still pending in district court. Virginia has filed a motion to dismiss.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2023 – Railroad Crossing and the Broadband Right-of-Way

As states work to distribute federal broadband fundings, providers are facing challenges in fiber build outs, especially with the right-of-way access across public lanes or private properties. The Department of Transportation and the National Telecommunication and Information Administration both have issued guidelines to streamline the process, but some municipalities (and railroad companies) have pushed back, claiming those rules infringe on their authority. There is also debate over fees railway companies charge fiber providers. How might states go forward with these measures to expedite internet deployment?

Panelists

  • Gary Wood, Firefly Fiber Broadband
  • Caroline Booth Olsen, Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs, INCOMPAS
  • Alan Poole, Partner, Troutman Pepper
  • Other panelists have been invited
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Gary Wood is President and CEO of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative and its wholly owned subsidiary Firefly Fiber Broadband. Firefly began building fiber in August of 2018 and since that time has led a project that built over 5000 miles of fiber, making gigabit speed broadband service available to more than 55,000 rural central Virginia locations. Over 90% f the homes and businesses had no broadband options prior to the project. Expansion continues with plans for an additional 3500 miles of fiber passing another 40,000 locations in the next 24 months.

Caroline Boothe Olsen spent ten years on Capitol Hill working for conservative Members of Congress. During her time on the Rules Committee under Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, she learned the inner workings of the House and parliamentary procedure and during her time working for Congresswoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, at the House Republican Conference she served as a direct liaison to the entire House Conference giving her a unique viewpoint of the legislative issues that impact members from all corners of the country. Her decade of experience in political communications, leadership positions, and campaign finance has culminated into her position at INCOMPAS as the Director of Communications and Legislative Affairs.

Alan Poole, a partner at national full-service law firm Troutman Pepper, has spent his entire career solving his clients’ toughest problem in infrastructure. Alan specializes in fiber optic and other linear networks, and has a broader experience covering electric utilities, broadband, local government, real estate, corporate and transactional law. By focusing on the most critical issues facing his clients, Alan has developed a deep knowledge base in the myriad state and federal of legal issue facing companies that deploy communications networks all around the country.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

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