There’s broad consensus on the need to expand high-speed internet access in cities. But sharp differences over how to achieve that were put into stark relief Thursday at an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event in Washington.
ITIF President Rob Atkinson talked up the need to streamline local permitting processes. And industry wants more involvement in this from the Federal Communications Commission. But local leaders fear pre-emption from the FCC will continue to leave rural and low-income areas in the lurch.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn cautioned against a one-size-fits-all approach. Particularly with an influx of applications for individual “small cells” that plug into underlying fiber infrastructure to provide wireless internet access.
Panelist Van Bloys, senior government affairs counsel for the Wireless Infrastructure Association, ventured his industry would support something like the 2011 FCC order that set the rates communications companies pay for deployment of their network infrastructure via pole attachments.
The FCC cited that “pole attachment order” in supporting Louisville, Ky., against AT&T, which had sued the city for bypassing the company when it allowed Google access to their utility poles. Incumbent carriers like AT&T often have wires on those poles, or even own the poles. The process of getting everyone on the pole to check their wires before allowing a new entrant access can create business delays.
“Where incumbent companies control access to the poles, they have an incentive to block competition by slowing down the process,” Deb Socia, executive director of Next Century Cities, an association of more than 160 mayors and community leaders across the country, said in a phone interview with Morning Consult.
Many cities are implementing policies, typically referred to as “one-touch-make-ready,” to deal with this challenge by allowing a single, approved contractor to handle any new attachments.
Clyburn, at least, sees this as part of a potential best practices guide for local broadband deployment. “Dig once, and those other tools, promote dexterity and efficiency,” she said.
States, too, are acting on the issue of broadband deployment. On Thursday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed a small cell wireless bill that’s estimated to boost investment in high-speed 5G networks in Richmond and Virginia Beach, according to Broadcasting and Cable.