What’s blocking more broadband? The humble utility pole

High-speed internet for every home and business in this country has been elusive 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 Senators 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 over 6% (approximately 350,000 residents) of Coloradans lacking access to broadband according to BroadbandNow, it is critical that we ensure that a portion of this historic investment earmarked 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 first-hand the effects the pandemic has had on learning for students across our state. While some students had parents or caregivers who could stay home with their children, helping them navigate the internet and in-home learning, the vast majority of parents had to continue working to pay their rent or mortgages and put food on the table. on the table for their families, leaving them in a crunch to act as both a distant teaching assistant and provider for their family.

In addition, too many families did not have access to broadband internet during the pandemic. Because of this, students have been forced to walk to school 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-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 doing what it’s meant to do by upgrading ours. the outdated rules of a nation’s polar approach. Successful, rapid broadband expansion will require much-needed changes to be made regarding utility pole access.

Service stations play a critical role in our communications infrastructure, and this has only grown truer with our increasing reliance on the internet. For unserved areas—communities without access to any high-speed Internet infrastructure—the most efficient way to bring them online is for Internet service providers to connect their technology to existing poles.

However, most broadband providers do not own utility poles; small utilities, cooperatives, electric companies and other entities do. Therefore, suppliers must get permission to access poles and pay a fee to fix their technology.

All of this would be fine if there was a functional system governing access to poles.

Unfortunately, the permitting process can be complicated and opaque. Not all pole owners share the same sense of urgency that underserved Coloradans do for broadband access. Even if providers have shown that they are willing to pay for the costs associated with their new polar attachments, in some cases, disputes arise over the cost for access. These disputes can take many months before they are heard and then resolved.

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Without a system to resolve disputes or fast-track access, this process can drag on, eventually leaving underserved communities stranded without Internet access and therefore the critical 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 that into perspective: while 6% of the country as a whole lacks 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.

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

Congress can build on its admirable work on infrastructure by acting to accelerate access to poles and resolve disputes over pole replacements, so we can take advantage of this opportunity to bring high-speed Internet to every home and business. Many Americans rely on our leaders to connect. Congress should establish clear rules to resolve disputes between pole owners and providers quickly so that broadband infrastructure expansion is not unnecessarily delayed.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act holds great promise to finally get 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 law to do what it was intended to do.

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Lori Goldstein lives in Westminster.

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