Increasing Broadband Access? It All Comes Down to Poles

It may come as a surprise to city leaders that one of the biggest barriers to bringing high-speed fiber internet to your community and ensuring your residents can tap the power of next-generation internet is as simple as the utility pole this fiber hangs from. But it’s true.

What’s more, utility poles often become a battleground between longtime companies and newer network providers, and access (or lack thereof) to those poles can determine whether a new provider is able to easily and cost effectively deploy broadband in an area.

Unfortunately, right now the process is often long, difficult, and expensive in too many places, making the barrier to entry incredibly high.

And while it seems complicated — for instance the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the pole attachment process in 30 states, but the other 20 states and the District of Columbia all have implemented their own regulations — this flexibility actually gives states, and sometimes municipal governments, the power to determine what process works best in their community and to facilitate agreements.

That is why Next Century Cities, a non-profit membership organization that supports cities and leaders as they seek to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, reliable, and fast internet, created a comprehensive Pole Attachment Guide. This guide offers an in depth guide to pole authority by state and additional resources to support local leaders.

Next Century Cities with over 163 mayors and city leaders as members, represents close to forty million Americans. Our organization works to help cities leverage high-quality broadband to attract new businesses and create jobs, improve health care and education, increase civic engagement, and connect residents to new opportunities.

We hope this Pole Attachment Guide will help our member communities, and other city leaders across the country, understand how they can create good partnerships with broadband service providers to bring access to more of their residents. Because when city leaders have the ability to streamline deployment, communities benefit.

One key principle of Next Century Cities is that there is no one size fits all solution to ensuring that everyone has access to next generation broadband, so it is crucial that cities have control over the solutions they choose to implement. That is especially true when it comes to pole attachment regulations.

And cities are doing really interesting things. To facilitate broadband deployment, and reduce disruptions that come from the need to check with each provider that has attached wires on utility poles, cities have implemented policies to speed up the “make ready” process. For cities such as Chattanooga, TN where the utility poles are owned by the city utility, the streamlining process is easy and requires only internal adjustments. In other cities, such as Nashville, TN and Louisville, KY, One Touch Make Ready ordinances have been proposed. These policies allow a single contractor, or a select group of contractors — agreed upon by the pole owner and all existing attachers — to conduct new make ready work through a process called One Touch Make Ready.

This allows construction to be completed faster and more safely than having multiple contractors at each pole, and can benefit residents by allowing access to new services more quickly. It also decreases the inconveniences of make ready work, including noise, traffic disruptions, and service outages.

We hope that mayors, other elected officials, and broadband champions across the country will use the Pole Attachment Guide as a resource when deciding whether to pass ordinances that would facilitate smooth and rapid deployment of next-generation broadband services. It shows that not every state has to regulate pole attachments in the same way, and that flexibility makes sense, as long as it promotes competition and better broadband access, instead of inhibiting it.

Next Century Cities encourages cities and counties to pursue collaborations with public and private partners that will allow for a fast, safe, and affordable pole attachment process, so that more Americans can access high-quality broadband, which is critical infrastructure in the 21st century.