GoNetspeed advocates for pole attachment reform in Massachusetts

GoNetspeed, a fiber provider primarily operating in New England, is encouraging Massachusetts to adopt legislation that would simplify the process for deploying new broadband infrastructure.

Known as One Touch Make Ready (OTMR), the bill would enable providers to better access utility poles and other infrastructure through a streamlined permitting process.

The difference between OTMR and traditional pole attachment methods, according to GoNetspeed Chief Legal Counsel Jamie Hoare, “is really who is driving the process.”

“The party applying for access to the poles obviously wants to get on the pole as quickly as possible. And they are able to direct the work of the contractors to accomplish that,” he told Fierce. “They have an incentive to get it done quickly [and by] being able to direct the contractors, they really are able to get it done in a much faster, more efficient and in a more cost-effective manner.”

Under a traditional pole attachment process, the provider applies to the pole owners, who then conduct a survey “to determine what facilities are already on it” and whether there is room for more facilities, Hoare explained. Afterwards, pole owners give providers a make-ready estimate, which bills the applicant for any work that needs to be done, such as shifting existing utility lines or “replacing poles with taller poles.”

All told, “that’s a pretty inefficient process,” said Hoare. OTMR also reduces the number of truck rolls needed for the make-ready work.

“You have a single truck roll doing all the line moves, rather than having each company that occupies the pole have to wait for the party to move before them and then schedule their own truck roll,” he said. The latter process “can take months to perform” a make-ready, as opposed to “a matter of days” under a single truck roll.

GoNetspeed executives have testified before the Massachusetts state legislature to discuss the benefits of OTMR, such as how it could help accelerate broadband infrastructure deployment in underserved areas.

Hoare noted Massachusetts is the only New England state that doesn’t have a OTMR protocol in place. Typically, OTMR is established through a regulatory process (something the Federal Communications Commission has done for pole attachments governed by federal law) or via legislation.

But in Massachusetts, neither a rulemaking nor a legislative approach has addressed the issue thus far. The OTMR bill was first proposed in January of this year and is currently under consideration by the legislature’s telecommunications, utilities and energy committees. Hoare said the bill needs to get voted out of committee before it goes to either the state Senate or House of Representatives.

“If you compare Massachusetts to Maine, between applying for the poles and the completion of make-ready, that takes years…more than two years to complete that process,” said Hoare. “You go up to Maine, which under Maine Chapter 880 has sort of a model of OTMR, that process takes four months.” Such a policy results in consumers getting quicker service and “stretches investment in broadband that much farther,” he added.

Can BEAD money help?

The White House this week revealed how much money each state will receive from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, and Massachusetts is slated to get around $147.4 million in funds.

Hoare noted while that amount is a “sizable investment,” he predicts the influx of BEAD money will “further clog” the state’s pole attachment system.

“Right now, the system of pole applications in Massachusetts is already bogged down with the comparatively limited investments going on,” he said. “The timeframes that we’re seeing right now of taking years to navigate the pole attachment process – that is only going to get longer.”

“This legislation really is nicely timed to help reform the system and allow this influx of investment to really be effective and achieve the goals that it’s targeted to achieve,” Hoare concluded.