Study Finds Utility Pole Access Key To Speeding Broadband Deployment In NC

(RALEIGH, N.C.) – A new economic study released today highlights the public benefits of providing greater access to utility poles as the way to connect North Carolina’s unserved homes and small businesses to high-speed internet service more quickly.

The study, commissioned by the North Carolina Cable Telecommunications Association (NCCTA), provides an analysis of the full economic realization of timely broadband expansion. Analyzing just one of the many broadband expansion programs currently available in North Carolina, the study warns that if changes are not made to address unreasonable pole attachment rates, terms and conditions imposed on broadband providers, it could delay deployment and jeopardize at least $3.5 billion in additional consumer value in the state. These delays in accessing utility poles for broadband could cost North Carolina households and businesses a minimum of $14 to $16 million per month in economic gain, according to the study.

Authored by Edward J. Lopez, Professor of Economics at Western Carolina University, and Patricia D. Kravtin, a noted pole attachment expert, the study identifies the root causes limiting access to utility poles and stalling broadband deployment, and the need for timely and proactive solutions to address these barriers as policymakers roll out state and federal grant programs aimed to close the digital divide.
Focusing on the problematic rules currently governing access to electric cooperative and municipal-owned utility poles, the report examines how pole owners exert market power in ways that stall broadband deployment in unserved areas.

“To succeed in the 21 st century digital economy, all North Carolina communities must have access to the modern tools only available through high-speed internet service,” NCCTA counsel Marcus Trathen said. “This report makes clear the urgency needed to break down existing barriers – especially those faced by broadband providers seeking access to rural utility poles – that hinder and stall deployment to businesses, farmers, families, and schools. The North Carolina House of Representatives recognizes this problem and passed important policy changes that would reduce the delays and costs that have left too many families without access to high-speed internet. We know the Senate and Governor are equally committed to quickening the pace of broadband buildout and so we urge them to also support these commonsense solutions, which will help deploy rural broadband faster.”

The study underscores the risks to expanding broadband deployment if pole owners continue to impose unjust and unreasonable rates, terms, and conditions on third-party broadband providers, a problem that ultimately delays expansion to rural areas and deters further investment. The report also emphasizes the need for policymakers to address the obstacles to broadband deployment by adopting efficient, statewide policies to ensure that timeframes and costs related to pole access are reasonable and fair.
The full study can be found here: “Utility Pole Policy: A Cost-Effective Prescription for Achieving Full Broadband Access in North Carolina”

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