Broadband connectivity and its services have become an integral part of our society, but too many people are being left behind. It is incredibly challenging for those without access to high-speed internet to keep up. The pandemic made this especially evident.
As demonstrated by last year’s passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, it is heartening to see leaders such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal recognize this and act accordingly. Congress has provided the opportunity to level the playing field and get everyone online by allocating $65 billion to expand connectivity. It is imperative, however, that federal lawmakers make sure that this new funding is utilized to its maximum potential.
They can do this by expediting access to utility poles. Such action is necessary to achieve true universal connectivity.
Utility poles play a pivotal role when it comes to expanding broadband access because they serve as the backbone of our country’s communication infrastructure. Providing internet access to under-served areas can only happen if internet providers can attach the necessary equipment to utility poles. Far too often, however, the overly complex permitting process thwarts such efforts.
Because internet providers do not usually own utility poles, they must obtain permission from the pole owners, who are usually cooperatives, local utilities, or electric companies. During this process, however, long-running disputes can occur between providers and pole owners over the cost of replacing and maintaining poles. Because of these disputes, the unserved residents of Connecticut continue to be denied access to things such as online learning, telehealth services, and employment searches.
Especially when the current federal funding opportunities allow us to close the divide, we can’t let such an avoidable obstacle stand in the way of connecting all Americans. It is necessary to establish a clearer system for resolving disagreements regarding cost-sharing when it comes to utility poles. There is a critical need for our federal leaders to ensure that poles are accessed as quickly as possible and that there is a transparent timeline and process for resolving disagreements.
As a champion of municipal interests in Connecticut I know that too many of our residents are being left behind. Ensuring broadband access for all is crucial to Connecticut’s socioeconomic success.
It is imperative that internet access be expanded as quickly as possible. Lack of pole access means lack of access to education and employment opportunities. Needless equipment siting delays have a clear negative impact on students’ academic attainment and adult employment prospects.
I encourage Senator Blumenthal to build upon the important work he has already done on this issue and take the next step to fix this outdated system so that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law can achieve its objective of ensuring universal access to critical infrastructure.
James J. Finley, Jr. is the former Executive Director & CEO of the CT Conference of Municipalities [CCM]. Finley also directed the efforts of the CT Coalition for Justice in Education Funding [CCJEF].