Recently, at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the 5G workforce and barriers to broadband deployment, I delivered very good news about all-fiber network deployments in the US: Today, according to our research, 46.5 million American homes have access to all-fiber networks and 20.5 million are connected. This is a 16% increase in homes passed by fiber since 2018 – a huge win for connectivity and 5G in this country.
But we can accelerate this pace even further by lowering private and public barriers to fiber deployment.
The Fiber Broadband Association has a long-held mission to support the building and deployment of all-fiber networks by any and every provider, including electric co-operatives or municipalities that choose to build their own networks. These providers know what their communities need more than anyone. However, some state and local laws can stand in the way of these networks being built. This needs to change: Communities should be able to control their own broadband destiny.
Beyond these entry barriers, building all-fiber networks also requires navigating ordinances and employing the right people with the right skills to get it done. Providers often have very good relationships with state and local governments on these issues, and they have done a lot of great work to get networks off the ground. We believe that the government’s role is to place guardrails to deal with the outliers and to remove unnecessary red tape for fiber deployment. With that in mind, we will continue to advocate for removing barriers to fiber deployment and entry obstacles, particularly access to pole attachments, railroad easements and state and local rights of way.
Poles are an essential way to install fiber, and our members are looking to get timely access to poles without delay or unsupported rates. There has been great progress in overcoming this barrier in the past two years. In adopting the federal pole attachment statute (Section 224 of the Communications Act), Congress sought to facilitate access to poles. Likewise, the FCC's 2018 pole attachment order, which instituted One-Touch-Make-Ready and other measures, was also a positive step. Compliance with the new regulations is ongoing, but these are big steps in the right direction.
Getting the right to cross railroad tracks is especially difficult. The actual work typically can be completed within a day or less, but it often takes too long to get the right to cross the tracks and can be very expensive. Even worse, there is no federal statute to help. As a result, where states have not stepped in, providers can be held up for months to get permission to cross railroad crossings and can face unreasonable fees that vary arbitrarily and dramatically from railroad to railroad without justification or support. As we look to 2020 and beyond, we will advocate for policies that ease this sometimes-arduous process.
State and local rights-of-way
Virtually all fiber providers need access to state and local rights-of-way to pass along a specific route through government-owned grounds or property. Most fiber providers have excellent working relationships with state and local governments, but there are some outlier cases where it takes too long to approve an application or there is an effort to charge market rates rather than cost-based rates. In those cases, we would seek policies to expedite these processes.
In 2020, we will work with our members, partners and policymakers to tackle these other barriers to all-fiber network deployment together. Deployment of this fundamental infrastructure throughout the country is essential to securing a future adapted to an economy that is increasingly dependent on high-speed connectivity. We look forward to collaborating with Congress, state and local governments, and the private sector to remove barriers to deployment and bridge the digital divide in this country together.
— Lisa R. Youngers is President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA), the only all-fiber trade association in the Americas. Follow them on Twitter @fiberbroadband.