FCC passes new OTMR rules to speed 5G deployments

The FCC voted yesterday on rulesknown as one touch make ready (OTMR)that it says will speed and deepen the rollouts of new networks, including 5G.

There are stringent laws governing the distance between network elements on a pole. This usually means that wires and related equipment must be rearranged when a competitor enters a market. The new rules for the first time allow these companies to move existing attachments and perform related work.

Current rules vary by jurisdiction. They generally are logistical nightmares for newcomers because they require that work be done by current stakeholders. There can be delays due to paperwork, legitimate manpower limitations and the fact that readying poles for new competitors is at best a low priority. The issue is especially problematic when incumbents see the newcomers as direct competitors and use the process as a way to slow them down.

This problem has plagued new competitors for years. Pole attachment issues are thought to be one of the reasons that Google Fiber pulled back on its once aggressive deployment strategy.

RELATED: FCC establishes procedures for 28, 24 GHz auctions, tees up 39 GHz for 2019

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai defined the problem: "For a competitive entrant, especially a small company, breaking into the market can be hard, if not impossible, if your business plan relies on other entities to make room for you on those poles," he said in a statement (PDF). "Today, a broadband provider that wants to attach fiber or other equipment to a pole first must wait for, and pay for, each existing attacher to sequentially move existing equipment and wires. This can take months. And the bill for multiple truck rolls adds up. For companies of any size, pole attachment problems represent one of the biggest barriers to broadband deployment."

Ars Technica pointed out that the OTMR rules only apply to privately owned poles and in states that haven't opted out of federal pole attachment rules. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have done so.

The FCC says the new rules could result in 8.3 million incremental premises passed with fiber and about $12.6 billion in incremental fiber capital expenditures. It includes 5G in the technologies that will be positively impacted by the new rules. Indeed, it's especially relevant due to densification and wireless backhaul.