Tag: "pole attachments"

Posted September 25, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Last December we wrote about Connecticut’s long-awaited victory by court affirmation in the fight to let its cities attach to utility poles at no cost in pursuit of spurring municipal broadband efforts. A similar effort seems to have stalled in its neighbor to the north, with HD 4492 languishing in the Massachusetts Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee. 

The bill, “An Act To Establish Municipal Access To Utility Poles Located In Municipal Rights-Of-Way,” is simple. It modifies Chapter 166, Section 22a of the state’s General Laws to eliminate pole attachment fees for cities working to build broadband networks to reach “unserved or underserved areas” (as defined by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI)), shifting the expense instead to the current pole owner(s). John Barrett introduced the bill and two dozen fellow legislators co-signed it. It calls for: 

Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, for the purpose of safeguarding access to infrastructure essential to public health, safety and welfare, an owner of a shared-use pole and each entity attaching to that pole is responsible for that owner's or entity's own expenses for make-ready work to accommodate a municipality's attaching its facilities to that shared-use pole: a) For a governmental purpose consistent with the police power of the municipality; or b) For the purpose of providing broadband service to an unserved or underserved area.

Up in the Air

For parts of the country where aerial fiber sits at the core of network builds as a result of challenges posed by underlying geology (bedrock), overlying geography (topography), or other concerns that preempt underground construction, utility poles are the answer. Massachusetts has more than a million of them, and for projects just navigating the franchise areas of electric utility pole owners alone could be a daunting task. Getting timely, affordable access for make-ready work is an obstacle which can easily stall and kill a broadband project even when the pole...

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Posted May 28, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-...

Update (6/18/20)

In response to the $1.25 billion Vermont received from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, lawmakers immediately began discussing using $100 million of it to bridge the state's digital divide, with fully $45 million going to construction of new fiber networks across the Green Mountain State. But they were quickly stopped short by restrictions set on the monies, which stipulated the strict terms by which the funds were to be used. In the end, the state won't be seeing any construction from these funds. Instead a smaller amount — $43 million — will be directed at immediate relief efforts rather than long-term planning:

  • "$13 million in proposed spending to connect Vermonters to broadband internet services. The bulk of that, $11 million, would create a program to be managed by the public service department called Get Vermonters Connected Now [to] provide subsidies to low-income Vermonters who can't afford to use broadband networks already available in their neighborhoods."
  • "$20 million to compensate utilities . . . for the cost of continuing to serve people who stopped paying bills due to COVID-19."
  • "$7.3 million for the Agency of Digital Services to make it more secure for state employees to work remotely and to upgrade the obsolete unemployment insurance computer system."
  • "$500,000 for a "telecommunications recovery plan."
  • "$466,500 for local cable access organizations in recognition of the additional coverage they've taken on during the pandemic."

It's possible that federal regulations could change, but in the meantime Vermonters will have to look inward to solve its connectivity challenges.

Original Story

Vermont’s Department of Public Service recently released an Emergency Broadband Action Plan that is among the most aggressive of all state responses to the coronavirus pandemic. The state currently has 944 cases of COVID-19, with 54 attributable deaths. A full third of households with school children lacked...

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Posted December 3, 2019 by lgonzalez

In the past few years, states around the U.S. have made incremental changes in their laws to ease restrictions on municipalities and cooperatives interested in developing high-quality Internet network infrastructure. When communities in Connecticut wanted to exercise their right to space on utility poles at no cost, however, pole owners objected. After a drawn out review of the state's "Municipal Gain" law, local communities have finally obtained the decision they've pursued to develop cost-effective publicly owned fiber optic municipal networks.

Process, Procedure, and PURA

In 2016, the state's Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) turned to Connecticut's Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA) and asked the agency to clarify a 110-year-old state law regarding utility poles in municipal rights-of-way (ROW). In Connecticut, about 900,000 of the poles are scattered throughout the state and are prime locations for fiber optic cables for improved connectivity. Most of the poles belong to Verizon, Frontier, one of the state's electric providers, or are jointly owned by two or more of them.

The Municipal Gain Law was created in the early 1900s to give local communities reserved space with no attachment fee on the poles in order to hang telegraph wires. As telephone and other technologies evolved that required wiring, municipalities wanted to take advantage of the space. There were several lawsuits between pole owners and municipalities over the years with pole owner interests usually losing out to the needs of the public. By 2013, it became clear that amending the law to allow communities to access the municipal gain space "for any use" made sense and the state legislature made the statutory language change. Local communities saw the change as an opportunity to string fiber in the space, establishing publicly owned infrastructure on which they could partner with private sector providers for improved local connectivity.

seal-connecticut.png Incumbent Internet access companies saw it as a threat to their monopolies and mobilized to stop the trend. Incumbent ISPs began with tactics such as pole attachment agreements with strict terms that limited municipalities' ability to complete a project in a timely manner....

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Posted April 2, 2019 by lgonzalez

Interest in community broadband and broadband service from cooperatives has grown significantly within the past few years. This legislative session, lawmakers in states such as Vermont, North Carolina, and Arkansas, have decided that they’d like to start contributing to new ways to bring better Internet access to their constituents. This week, Christopher and Jess Del Fiacco, our Communications Specialist, sit down to review some of the most recent state bills that we find promising.

Jess and Christopher talk about H 513 making it’s way through Vermont’s legislature. The bill contains policy changes and financial support designed to invigorate local broadband projects. H 513 was developed after state leaders examined the success of ECFiber, the regional network that brings gigabit connectivity to more than 20 communities in the central part of the state. 

The state of North Carolina’s FIBER NC ACT, which relaxes some of the state’s restrictions on local Internet network infrastructure investment, also comes up in the conversation. Christopher finds the bill a promising start to restoration of local telecommunications authority in North Carolina. State lawmakers are also considering another bill that will assist with pole issues.

Christopher and Jess spend some time examining what’s happening in Tallahassee, Florida, where city leaders have decided that they...

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Posted March 1, 2019 by lgonzalez

In the past year, communities and cooperatives in Texas have been making gallant efforts to better connect local residents and businesses with high-quality Internet access. Now, they may get a little help from the State Legislature.

Helping Co-ops

Earlier in this session, Senator Robert Nichols introduced SB 14, a bill that will allow electric cooperatives that hold easements obtained for electric service infrastructure the ability to extend those easements to broadband infrastructure. The bill replicates the FIBRE Act, a 2017 Indiana bill that opened up possibilities for rural cooperatives in that state.

Nichols told KLTV that he has high hopes for his bill:

“I’m getting a lot of support because all of the other plans for broadband that have been proposed use subsidies,” said Nichols. “This one asks the state for nothing, it asks the federal government for nothing.”

He also told KLTV that the Governor’s office has expressed support for the proposal.

Read the text of the bill.

Similar to Indiana’s FIBRE Act, the extension of the easement applies to those that already exist. By enacting making the change, cooperatives that already have infrastructure in place will save time in deploying fiber optic networks because they won’t need to obtain a second set of easements from members who’ve already granted them for electricity infrastructure.

In addition to offering broadband to members sooner, cooperatives who are able to take advantage in the change in the law will also save financially. Personnel costs, filing, and administrative fees add up when a co-op must obtain multiple, sometimes dozens or hundreds, of legal easements. Occasionally, a property owner doesn’t consent to an easement right away. This change in the law will prevent hang-ups in deployment due to uncooperative property owners that can jeopardize a project.

Back Home Again in Indiana

Several Indian electric cooperatives have announced Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployments since the FIBRE Act took effect....

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Posted July 12, 2018 by Hannah Rank

The City of Sanford, Maine, is putting the final pieces of funding in place to move forward with its ambitious 45-mile fiber optic build, SandfordNet, the largest fiber infrastructure build proposed in Maine to date. 

Along with two other funding sources, the project will be financed by an existing Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in downtown Sanford. According to the Journal Tribune, the project will cost $2.02 million in total to complete; that figure is higher than initially projected, due in part to fees to access utility poles. 

The SanfordNet project involves building what the city describes as a “fourth redundant ring” that will attach to the statewide fiber loop known as the “Three Ring Binder.” Sanford’s building out the 45 miles of fiber and then connecting it to the Binder, which is about nine miles beyond city limits. The fiber will connect nearly 90 Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs), such as libraries and hospitals, to the infrastructure that will offer 10 Gigabit per second symmetrical upload and download capacity. The city is utilizing an open access model, leasing out its fiber to ISPs in a non-discriminatory approach that promotes competition.

GWI of Biddeford, Maine, will operate the network for Sanford and intends to offer Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to residential premises along the fiber route in areas where there's sufficient demand. The open access model will create the opportunity for competition, creating better rates and better services for Mainers in the region. For more on what has become known as the "Maine Model," check out Christopher's conversation with GWI's CEO Fletcher Kittredge, episode 214 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.

Where the Project Stands

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Posted April 27, 2018 by lgonzalez

Nestled along the south eastern border of Maine are Baileyville and Calais. As rural communities situated next to Canada in the state's "Downeast" region, neither town is on a list of infrastructure upgrades from incumbents. With an aging population, a need to consider their economic future, and no hope of help from big national ISPs, Baileyville and Calais are joining forces and developing their own publicly owned broadband utility.

Baileyville and Calais

There are about 3,000 residents in Calais (pronounced "Kal-iss") and 1,500 in Baileyville, but according to Julie Jordan, Director of Downeast Economic Development Corporation (DEDC), many of those residents are aging and younger people find little reason to stay or relocate in Washington County. The community recognizes that they need to draw in new industries and jobs that will attract young families to keep the towns from fading off the map.

Most of the residents in the region must rely on slow DSL from Consolidated Communications (formerly FairPoint), while a few have access to cable from Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable); expensive and unreliable satellite is also an option and there's some limited fixed wireless coverage in the area. A few larger businesses that require fiber optic connectivity can find a way to have it installed, but Julie tells us that it's incredibly expensive in the area and most can't afford the high rates for fiber.

Economic Development Driven

logo-baileyville-me.png Organized in 2015, the nonprofit DEDC came together with the focus on recruiting new businesses to the area and to support existing businesses. As DEDC quickly discovered, unless the region could offer high-speed, reliable Internet infrastructure, attracting new businesses and helping existing businesses expand would be extremely difficult. They also determined that new families would not be interested in Baileyville or Calais without high-quality connectivity. "It was a no-brainer," says Julie, "you have to go fiber."

One of the largest regional employers, Woodland Pulp, need fiber in order to operate and as Julie describes, "they pay up the nose" for connectivity. All their equipment is computerized and they...

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Posted October 24, 2017 by lgonzalez

With the best intentions, Kentucky announced in late 2014 that it would build out a statewide open access fiber optic network to at least one location in each county to encourage high-quality connectivity in both urban and rural communities. Hopes were high as rural residents and businesses that depended on DSL and dial-up envisioned connectivity to finally bring them into the 21st century. After almost three years and multiple issues that have negatively impacted the project, legislators and everyday folks are starting to wonder what's in store for the KentuckyWired project. 

Local Communities Are Best Suited To Deploy Community Networks

There is no one-size-fits-all method of deploying across a state filled with communities and landscapes as diverse as Kentucky. From the urban centers like Louisville and Lexington to the rocky, mountainous terrain in the southeastern Appalachian communities, demographics and geography vary widely. But most lack modern Internet access and local ISPs have found it hard to get affordable backhaul to connect to the rest of the Internet.

There are several municipal networks in Kentucky, some of which have operated for decades. In addition to Glasgow, Paducah, Bowling Green, Frankfort, and others, Owensboro is currently expanding a pilot project that proved popular. As our own Christopher Mitchell discussed at the Appalachia Connectivity Summit, several cooperatives have made major fiber-optic investments in the state.

When it comes to connecting residents and local businesses, we strongly believe local entities are the best choice. Local officials have a better sense of rights-of-way, the challenges of pole attachments, and the many other moving pieces that go into network investment. Projects with local support see fewer barriers - people are more willing to grant easements, for instance. 

As a state, building an open access fiber network into each county makes sense. States also need to connect their offices, from public safety to managing natural resources and social services. Rather than overpay a massive monopoly like AT&T...

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Posted August 28, 2017 by lgonzalez

Louisville has overcome a tall hurdle in its efforts to bring better connectivity and more competition to the community through local control. On August 16th the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky supported the city’s one touch make ready (OTMR) ordinance. AT&T challenged the ordinance in court, but their arguments fell flat and court confirmed that the city has the authority to manage its rights-of-way with OTMR.

State Law

AT&T’s claim based on state law asserted that the city was overstepping its authority by enacting the OTMR ordinance because it was impinging on Kentucky Public Service Commission jurisdiction. AT&T attorneys argued that, according to state law, the PSC has exclusive jurisdiction over utility rates and services, but the court found that argument incorrect.

Within the state law, the court found that the OTMR ordinance fell under a carve-out that allows Louisville to retain jurisdiction over its public rights-of-way as a matter of public safety. The ordinance helps limit traffic disruptions by reducing the number of instances trucks and crews need to tend to pole attachments. The court wrote in its Order:

AT&T narrowly characterizes Ordinance No. 21 as one that regulates pole attachments. But the ordinance actually prescribes the “method or manner of encumbering or placing burdens on” public rights-of-way. … It is undisputed that make-ready work can require blocking traffic and sidewalks multiple times to permit multiple crews to perform the same work on the same utility pole…. The one-touch make-ready ordinance requires that all necessary make-ready work be performed by a single crew, lessening the impact of make-ready work on public rights-of-way. … Louisville Metro has an important interest in managing its public rights-of-way to maximize efficiency and enhance public safety. … And Kentucky law preserves the right of cities to regulate public rights-of-way. … Because Ordinance No. 21 regulates public rights-of-way, it is within Louisville Metro’s constitutional authority to enact the ordinance, and [the state law granting authority to the PSC] cannot limit that authority. 

Federal Jurisdiction

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Posted June 14, 2017 by lgonzalez

The State Legislature in Indiana sent SB 478 to Governor Eric Holcomb earlier this session; he recently signed the bill into law. Also known as the Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act, the new law allows electric cooperatives with easements for electric lines to use those same easement for fiber infrastructure. The change in existing law will allow rural electric cooperatives to bring high-quality Internet access to the many rural regions in Indiana that are now unserved or underserved.

Updating Easements For Connectivity

SB 478 applies only to existing easements between electric suppliers and property owners. It doesn’t apply to new electric easements, railroad property, or the installation of new poles, conduit, or other structures. Other exceptions also apply to limit the new easement applications to existing infrastructure. 

The language of the bill provides in detail the steps that a property owner can take if they oppose the installation of the new infrastructure under the purview of an existing easement. It also lays out the information that an electricity provider must provide to the property owner regarding the plan for fiber infrastructure deployment and planned delivery. The bill goes on to establish further procedures if a property owner decides to pursue legal action if they feel their property value is decreased due to the new infrastructure or other related matters.

Lastly, the bill lays out procedural requirements for an electric cooperative that decides to offer broadband Internet. They must create a separate entity and maintain a separate accounting system.

Read the entire bill here.

Learning From The Co-op Guys

Republican State Senator Eric Koch, lead author on the bill, introduced the legislation as part of his ongoing efforts to improve connectivity in Indiana’s rural areas. According to a March article in the Indiana Economic Digest:

A couple of years ago, Koch was working on another issue with the Indiana Electric Cooperatives, and he saw maps of all the areas that are served by...

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