What’s blocking more broadband? The humble utility pole

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

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Package provides $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% (nearly 350,000) of Coloradans lacking access to broadband according to BroadbandNow, it is critical that we ensure that a portion of this historic investment in federal broadband funding is used to connect underserved Coloradans.

As a teacher and board member of Adams 12 Five Star Schools, I have seen the first-hand effects the pandemic has on learning for students across our district. While some students had parents or caregivers who were able to stay at home with their children, helping them check the Internet and study at home, most parents had to continue working to pay rent or housing and put on food. on the table of their families, leaving them in trouble to work as a distant teaching assistant and breadwinner for their families.

In addition, too many families did not have access to broadband internet due to the epidemic. Because of this, students are forced to walk to school parking lots and connect to the school’s internet to continue going to school because of the epidemic.

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Now that we have this once-in-a-generation 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 is serving its purpose by revising our action plan. State laws to access the pole are out of date. Effective, rapid expansion of broadband will require much-needed changes in access to utility poles.

Service poles play an important role in our telecommunications infrastructure, and this has become even more true with our increasing reliance on the Internet. In underserved areas – communities without access to any high-speed Internet infrastructure – the most effective way to get them online is for Internet service providers to attach their technology to existing poles.

However, most broadband providers do not have utility poles; small utilities, co-ops, electric companies, and other entities do. Therefore, providers must obtain permission to access the poles and pay a fee to attach their technology.

All of that would be great if there was an effective system to control access to the stakes.

Unfortunately, the approval process can be complex and opaque. Not all pole owners share the same sense of urgency as do Coloradans who have yet to be granted broadband access. Even if the providers have shown that they are willing to cover the costs associated with the attachment of their new poles, in some cases, disputes arise over access costs. These disputes can drag on for months before they are heard and resolved.

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Without a system for resolving disputes or speeding up access to the stake, this process can drag on, leaving dysfunctional communities without access to the Internet and therefore the essential services they need, including distance learning, telehealth, and more.

Rural Americans are 10 times more likely to lack broadband access than those in urban areas. To put this into perspective: while 6% of the country as a whole lacks access to broadband infrastructure, that number rises to over 24% in rural areas. In addition, more than one in six poor people do not have access to the Internet.

Coloradans and Americans alike need solutions that bring transparency and change to a broken, outdated system, otherwise the millions of Americans targeted by the infrastructure bill will face the same connectivity challenges that have held them back for generations.

Congress can build on its excellent infrastructure work by taking action to speed up access to poles and resolve pole replacement disputes so we can use this opportunity to bring high-speed Internet to every home and business. Many Americans rely on our leaders to communicate. Congress should establish clear rules to resolve disputes between pole owners and providers as soon as possible so that the expansion of broadband infrastructure is not unnecessarily delayed.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law holds the promise of finally getting every home and business 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 legislation to do what it was intended to do.

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Lori Goldstein lives in Westminster.

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