What’s blocking more broadband? The humble utility pole

High-speed internet for every home and business in this country has been invisible for the past 20 years despite efforts by administrations on both sides of the aisle — until now. Thanks to the incredible work of the Biden Administration and leaders like US Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, Colorado and the rest of America have a historic opportunity to close their digital divide once and for all.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Package allocates $65 billion to connect the remaining 6% of American homes without access to high-speed internet, including some of Colorado’s most rural and remote areas. With more than 6% (about 350,000 residents) of Coloradans lacking access to broadband according to BroadbandNow, it is imperative that we ensure that a portion of this historic investment allocated for federal broadband funding is used to connect underserved Coloradans .

As an educator and member of the Adams 12 Five Star Schools Board of Education, I have seen firsthand the effects of the pandemic on learning for students across our state. While some students had parents or caregivers who were able to stay home with their children, helping them navigate online and at-home learning, the vast majority of parents had to continue working to support their to pay rent or their mortgages and to provide food. on the table for their families, which leaves them with a crunch to act as a distance teaching assistant and provider for their family.

In addition, too many families without access to broadband internet were entering the pandemic. Because of this, students had to walk to the school’s parking lots and connect to the school’s internet to continue attending school through the pandemic.

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Now that we have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to level the digital playing field, we need the federal government to remove barriers to success—our elected leaders in Colorado can make sure their hard work does what it’s intended to do by update our elected leaders. the nation’s outdated pole access rules. Rapid and rapid broadband expansion will require much-needed changes to utility pole access.

Utility poles play a vital role in our communications infrastructure, and this has only been reflected in our increasing reliance on the internet. For unserved areas — communities that don’t have access to any high-speed internet infrastructure — the most efficient way to get them online is for internet service providers to attach their technology to existing poles.

Most broadband providers, however, do not own utility poles; small utilities, cooperatives, electric companies, and other entities do. Therefore, suppliers must be allowed to access poles and pay a fee to install their technology.

All of that would be fine if there was a functional system that controlled access to poles.

Unfortunately, the approval process can be complicated and opaque. Not all pole owners have the same urgency as Coloradans without broadband access. Although providers have indicated that they are willing to cover the costs of their new pole attachment, in some cases, disputes arise regarding the cost of access. These disputes can drag on for many months before they are heard and subsequently resolved.

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Without a dispute resolution system or quick pole access, this process can drag on, leaving unserved communities stuck without internet access and thus the critical services they need, including distance learning, telehealth, and many others.

Rural Americans are 10 times more likely to lack broadband access than those in urban areas. To put that into perspective: while 6% of the country as a whole does not have access to broadband infrastructure, that figure rises to more than 24 percent in rural areas. In addition, more than one in six people living in poverty do not have internet access.

Coloradoans and Americans alike need solutions that bring transparency and restore a broken, outdated system, or the millions of Americans whose infrastructure bill is at stake will face the same connectivity challenges that have plagued them for generations .

Congress can build on its commendable work on infrastructure by taking action to speed up pole access and resolve pole replacement disputes so that we can take advantage of this opportunity to bring high-speed internet to every home and business. Many Americans depend on our leaders to connect. Congress should establish clear rules to quickly resolve disputes between pole owners and providers so that the expansion of broadband infrastructure is not unnecessarily delayed.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act holds great promise that every home and business will eventually have access to high-speed internet. We need leaders in Washington like Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet to make sure we create the right conditions that allow this law to do what it was intended to do.

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Lori Goldstein lives in Westminster.

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