By Johnny Kampis
A new study commissioned by the NC Cable Telecommunications Association warns that bureaucracy over access to utility poles could cost the state $ 3.5 billion in consumer value due to the resulting delays in broadband deployment.
After reviewing the broadband expansion programs underway in North Carolina, the report found that if changes are not made to address unreasonable pole fixing rates – and other conditions imposed on suppliers – households and businesses could lose $ 15 million per month in economic gain.
In recent years, several state legislatures have made efforts to reduce regulations to foster the growth of broadband. This includes requiring pole owners to charge reasonable rates for installing the equipment needed to extend high-speed Internet, as well as ensuring that providers do not have to bear the brunt. pole replacement costs.
But North Carolina lawmakers haven’t really addressed these issues, and the NCCTA thinks they should. The report, written by Edward Lopez, professor of economics at Western Carolina University and Patricia Kravtin, an expert in fixing poles, examines how pole owners exercise their monopoly power to force suppliers to pay higher fees, which slows down efforts to reduce the digital divide.
The study also shows that other hurdles include onerous schedules, pre-construction and post-construction requirements, and paying the full cost of replacing the posts as part of the “prep” process to prepare the posts for attachments.
“These inefficient fees and practices increase the costs of deploying broadband, causing consumers to delay or lose expansion,” the report says.
NCCTA attorney Marcus Trathen said it was essential for all communities in North Carolina to have access to high-speed internet, but such bureaucracy hampers the effort.
“This report clearly shows the urgency needed to remove existing barriers – especially those faced by broadband service providers seeking access to rural power poles – that hinder and block deployment to businesses, farmers, families and schools, ”he said.
The General Assembly has made some efforts, although they have been meager so far. For example, Senate Bill 689 – filed this year – would have stipulated that in an unserved area, a municipality or an electric cooperative replaces a utility pole as needed and at the request of a broadband provider using the pole. He also reportedly established reasonable costs for suppliers based on their use of the poles. This legislation, however, was never successful.
These are the types of changes touted by Jon Sanders, research editor at the John Locke Foundation and senior researcher, Regulatory Studies. Sanders wrote a report discuss ways in which state leaders can help extend broadband to more rural areas of the state.
Bridging the digital divide in North Carolina is critical, given that approximately 1.1 million homes in North Carolina do not have broadband access.
“I think it’s imperative for North Carolina to have a head start in taking care of these unserved areas,” Sanders said.