FTTH Council: Streamlined pole attachment processes will accelerate broadband installation

The FTTH Council recently released guidance on how to streamline the make-ready policies to facilitate deployment of fiber into more communities on the heels of the recently introduced "Dig Once" broadband deployment bill -- the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2015.

Under this proposed construct, a local utility could appoint one construction company to perform the make-ready work so a new attacher can proceed with its deployment. In addition to being more efficient, the process will facilitate greater fairness because all service provider attachers will get the same right to use a one-touch process.

"All government agencies should adopt 'one touch' make-ready policies for utility poles, which would allow a single construction crew  --  with enough skill and experience to be on an approved list and chosen by the pole owner itself  --  to complete all the work necessary to make a pole ready for the attachment of new equipment, said Heather Burnett Gold, president of FTTH Council Americas, in a blog post. "This is similar to guidance offered in the FCC's National Broadband Plan, which called for "allow[ing] prospective attachers to use independent, utility approved and certified contractors to perform all engineering assessments and communications make-ready work … under the joint direction and supervision of the pole owner and the new attacher."

Providers continue to leverage existing utility poles to extend fiber to more business and households, but the problem that has delayed some installations is the pole attachment process.

Under the current attachment process, which is referred to as the make-ready process, a service provider negotiates access to a pole typically with the local utility company or municipality and waits to get permission to run fiber along the poles.

However, this process can often take months due to various delays in the negotiation process. In some cases, new service providers that need access to a pole are sometimes held responsible for mistakes that a previous installer made on a set of poles.

What has held up the make-ready process is that a number of states have not set deadlines for construction for large pole attachment orders -- which include requests for over 3,000 poles -- for example.

This translates into not only inconvenience for local residents who suffer through weeks of construction, but also wasted capital for broadband providers that want to expand service.

"What we found with some of our member if they want to hang poles and find out a previous attacher is out of compliance or have violated the pole attachment rules, the pole owner is saying to them you have to correct those deficiencies before you attach," said Burnett Gold in an interview with FierceInstaller.

Burnett Gold said that the FTTH Council expects that streamlined make-ready processes would have the greatest effect in larger communities where there are multiple service providers trying to gain access to a pole.

"Smaller communities are usually 'how fast can you get this stuff up,' but we're talking about larger communities where [there's] Google and then there's two or three companies that want to attach to a pole simultaneously," Burnett Gold said. "This could be a part of a community discussion on how to use broadband just like when Dig Once was introduced in 2009."

A streamlined pole attachment process could benefit a number of service provider types, such as AT&T (NYSE: T). In order to fulfill its FTTH goals that it has to meet as part of its agreement with the FCC to get its DirecTV acquisition approved, the service provider will extend service to 11.7 million homes.

Part of its process includes leveraging existing utility poles and extending fiber from its existing FTTN-based U-verse network infrastructure.

John Stephens, CFO of AT&T, recently told investors that local town and city government agencies have also created a streamlined permitting process so AT&T can get access to rights of way and utility poles.  

Pole attachments are also an issue for rural service providers like Frontier.

The service provider has said in previous FCC filings that the amount of money it must pay to power companies to get necessary rights-of-way to access utility poles is one of the largest costs that it and other broadband providers incur in expanding their networks to more homes and businesses.

For more:
- see this FTTH Council blog post

Related articles:
U.S. FTTH deployment rose 13 percent in 2015, says FTTH Council
Frontier says pole attachment prices are dramatically high in rural areas
Level 3, COMPTEL ask FCC to rework utility pole attachment rules
NCTA to FCC: Google can already attach to utility poles without Title II