Charter walks 30,000 miles to prep poles for RDOF builds

Charter Communications rolled out gigabit-capable broadband to more than 1,200 locations in El Paso County, Texas, bringing online its first market supported by funding received in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction. Greg Mott, the SVP overseeing Charter’s RDOF projects, told Fierce it has been working furiously to prep additional markets across the 24-state area where it won support.

In December 2020, Charter won $1.2 billion in RDOF support from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help it deploy broadband to more than 1 million unserved locations. The operator subsequently unveiled a plan in February 2021 to use that funding to partially offset a $5 billion expansion of its rural footprint.

Like many of the other top bidders in the auction, Charter has yet to receive its winnings from the FCC. But that hasn’t stopped the company from getting started on prep work and construction.

Mott told Fierce Charter expects that 85% to 90% of its RDOF builds will be aerial, meaning it has to secure pole attachment agreements with hundreds of different pole owners across that 24-state footprint. Getting those agreements requires doing “walk outs” to each pole, he said, to take measurements, see what’s already attached and whether there’s room for Charter to hop on.

RELATED: Charter gets cracking on RDOF builds in 3 states

Much of the past year has been consumed with this work and to date Charter has walked out over 30,000 miles, Mott said. He added that’s about 25% of the total it’ll have to hit given its RDOF builds cover roughly 110,000 route miles. There are usually around 20 or so poles per mile, Mott noted.

“That’s really the challenge in these builds, getting ahead of all the permitting that’s required with all the different pole owners,” Mott said. “On average it takes a good six months just to get a license to attach to a pole. So that’s why we focused on that last year to try to get ahead of it, to get a lot of work in the pipeline so we can really start building more, faster.”

Mott said such work is underway in all 24 states where Charter won RDOF support. He pointed out that RDOF winners are up against certain FCC coverage deadlines which are measured by state, so “you really have to be working in all states simultaneously” to hit the appropriate targets.

While much of 2021 was dedicated to so-called "make ready" work, Mott said it completed some construction as well, as evidenced by the rollout in El Paso County. It's using EPON fiber technology for its deployments, he added.

There the operator said it is offering service tiers ranging from 200 Mbps to 1 Gbps for both consumers and small and medium businesses under its Spectrum Internet brand. It is also offering a plan for low-income consumers which provides 30 Mbps speeds for $17.99 per month.

Charter said in the release it plans to expand its network to additional homes in El Paso County and adjacent Dona Ana County in the coming months.