A Strategy for Expanding Faster Broadband ASAP
One of the primary obstacles to faster broadband deployment is one of the most mundane--timely access to utility poles. All broadband providers benefit from mechanisms that promote safe and speedy access to utility poles. Such a system should be fair, fast, and predictable--carefully reconciling both the pro-competitive interests of those attaching new facilities to poles with the property interests of those already attached. While the current FCC process often works well, the increasing number of problems that companies are experiencing in today’s competitive marketplace suggests that there is room for improvement.
Toward that end, NCTA recently filed with the FCC a proposal entitled Accelerated and Safe Access to Poles (ASAP). The ASAP Proposal addresses two key periods in the pole attachment process--the Pre-Make-Ready process and the Make-Ready process.
Pre-make-ready refers to the submission of an application for attachment by a new provider and the review of that application by the utility. Often this process can become a huge source of delay as utilities fail to process applications in a timely manner, impose requirements unrelated to the make-ready request, or attempt to collect unwarranted fees that have not been previously disclosed. To address these concerns, the ASAP Proposal includes clearly defined terms, timelines, and procedures to speed the review and approval of attachment applications. While the proposed timelines are rigorous, the time savings on construction projects would be significant.
Make-ready refers to the process of clearing space on the pole for the new provider. Current rules can delay deployment because a new provider may have to wait months for each existing attacher to move their facilities in sequential order. The ASAP Proposal addresses this concern by providing existing attachers an expedited window to perform their own work (no more than 45 days) and makes clear that this timeframe applies to all existing attachers concurrently, not sequentially. If the existing attachers have not moved their facilities within this expedited time frame, the ASAP Proposal allows a new provider to perform the work using a contractor pre-selected by the existing attacher.
By requiring the new provider to use a contractor that already has a relationship with the existing attacher, the ASAP Proposal should avoid the type of dispute that has been common in areas that have adopted mandatory “one touch make-ready” rules. These “one touch” regimes typically allow any contractor chosen by a new entrant to move existing facilities, with limited notice to existing providers and limited recourse for the inevitable network damage and service outages they cause. As a federal court in Tennessee explained in striking down the “one touch” ordinance adopted by the city of Nashville: “While the Ordinance may result in a more expeditious Make-Ready Process, it ignores one-half of the equation considered by the FCC--i.e., “safeguarding the network.”
Some parties have misconstrued cable’s opposition to the Nashville ordinance and other mandatory “one touch” regimes as obstructionism, but the filing of the ASAP Proposal should demonstrate conclusively that we share the FCC’s goal of “balanc[ing] the legitimate needs and interests of new providers, existing attachers, utilities, and the public.”
A comprehensive, balanced approach to pole access is now within the FCC’s reach and we encourage the agency to move forward with our proposal ASAP.