“Infrastructure”? It’s one of the top questions in Washington and around the country. What then are we trying to accomplish when it comes to broadband deployment? After all, the wireline and wireless communications sectors are spending approximately $100 billion annually on infrastructure, and this shows no sign of abating. And, after all, the federal government is spending over $4 billion annually to bring higher speed wireline and wireless broadband to unserved areas – and many states are spending significant sums as well. As a result of the federal government’s efforts, the number of “unserved” broadband locations has been cut in half in the past five years, and wireless connectivity has increased substantially. Not only will these “unserved” subsidy programs continue, but the federal government is providing about over $3 billion annually to support broadband to schools and libraries. All told, that’s a tremendous amount of investment in broadband infrastructure. So, what more should be done?
At the top of FCC Chairman Pai’s list is addressing problems that broadband providers are facing in obtaining access to poles, ducts, conduit, and rights-of-way. These private and public entities that control access to key infrastructure often add “friction” to builds by delaying permitting or by charging unreasonable fees. For instance, private pole owners may slow application approvals or charge too much for make ready, and many public pole owners charge three to four times more than private entities for pole rental. As for access to public right-of-way, some municipalities impose moratoria on builds, have lengthy approval processes, or believe they are entitled to assess fees unrelated to their costs and based on whatever the market will bear. Since access to these facilities is such a key factor in builds, speeding up the process and ensuring fees are reasonable can “move the needle” to facilitate additional builds both in served and unserved areas.
That is why Chairman Pai has established the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee and why the Commission just initiated proceedings to lower barriers wireline and wireless providers face in deploying infrastructure. For these new rulemakings, the Chairman would like to issue an order later this year. So, if you have concerns, now’s your chance to get involved a make a difference.