Virginia’s rural broadband fiber rollout plans may hit a snag if old telephone poles aren’t replaced.
The delay lies between internet service providers and pole owners disagreeing over how much replacement work will cost and who will foot the bill, according to Cardinal News.
Viriginia officials are concerned that fiber internet access may not reach the state’s estimated 162,000 unserved areas before the end of 2026. At that time federal COVID-19 relief funding is expected to expire, and the money will revert to the federal government.
The dispute between Virginia’s utility and telecom companies is just one example of many in the U.S. that illustrate the little complications of expanding broadband coverage that you don’t hear about. Utility companies argue that they wouldn’t incur the costs without attachments from telecom companies. But in 2022, Spectrum said states should be responsible for replacement payments. This means states would have to dip into funds like the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, that could be applied elsewhere.
While the companies bicker, hundreds of thousands of people lack access to reliable, high-speed internet.
The Federal Communications Commission may have found a faster way to resolve telephone pole disputes.
At its December meeting, the agency set up a Rapid Broadband Assessment Team, or RBAT, which is comprised of staff from the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau and Wireline Competition Bureau. RBAT would be on call to resolve disagreements between utility and telecom companies that could result in delayed broadband deployment.
The team would also assess whether certain disputes should be on the FCC’s “Accelerated Docket.” If so, the Commission must rule on the issue within 60 days, according to Broadband Breakfast.
In addition, the FCC wants to clarify what should be considered a “red tagged” pole — or a telephone pole that utility already plans to replace for other reasons — to further minimize future disputes.
Time will tell how the new rules serve to speed up broadband deployment for Viriginia’s rural communities and others in the U.S..