A Federal Communications Commission panel will call for the regulation of power poles owned by electric cooperatives as one way for states to accelerate broadband deployment, drawing serious concern from NRECA.
The FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) included a dozen other provisions that the association said threaten co-op operations as part of a model code for states to employ as laws and regulations for delivering high-speed internet.
BDAC is expected to give final approval to the state model code by late August or early September. NRECA has had a seat on the committee that is dominated by telecom representatives since its launch in 2017.
“When the BDAC approves the model code, state legislatures will be encouraged to take it up as how the FCC believes broadband should be deployed,” warned Brian O’Hara, NRECA regulatory issues director.
State model code provisions opposed by NRECA involve rights of access to existing network support infrastructure and rights of access to poles in the communications space. One of the most troublesome articles would classify electric co-ops as infrastructure “owners” and subject them to regulations under the code.
“The state model code, as drafted, ignores current exemptions from pole attachment regulation allowed by Congress for electric co-ops. It also ignores that all 20 states that have enacted laws streamlining attachments for small cell/5G networks allow that same exemption for co-ops,” said O’Hara.
The committee on July 27 failed to reach final agreement on the state model code and is revising the draft. The final state model code, however, is unlikely to allay concerns by NRECA, said O’Hara.
“We do expect it to eventually pass. We do not anticipate the provisions with which NRECA has concerns to be improved,” he said. “Once adopted by the BDAC, we fully expect the telecom industry to push hard for adoption of the model code in state capitals across the country.”
NRECA supported the only three articles it felt would assist rural broadband. One that established a broadband assistance fund remained in the document. NRECA managed to get co-ops and other non-incumbent telecom providers included as eligible participants.
Another provision that would create a state broadband infrastructure manager and Broadband Infrastructure Advisory Council was struck from the code. The third, to allow co-ops and municipalities to partner to deliver broadband, was set aside for possible reconsideration.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.