The FCC on Broadband Deployment: Federal Muscle Over Local Authority

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ajit-paiThere are five steps governments can and should take now to facilitate broadband deployment. That’s according to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who discussed the issue at the CTIA Wireless Foundation’s Smart Cities Expo in Washington, DC yesterday.

The FCC must use its authority to ensure local governments don’t get in the way. “Congress gave the Commission the express authority to preempt any state or local regulation that prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide wired or wireless service. We should use it,” said the GOP Commissioner, citing potentially unfair fees that can be pre-empted by the agency.

The FCC has a shot-clock for local governments to review wireless applications; the Commission should give it teeth by ruling if a local government doesn’t act in time, the application is considered approved and an ISP can start building, according to Pai.

To make broadband affordable and increase competition, pole attachment rates need to be trimmed by excluding capital expenses from the formula. Right now, ISPs have to pay for a pole owner’s capital expenses even when the pole owner has already recovered them separately. Pai suggests starting a rulemaking to review the reasonableness of the costs charged by pole owners for preparing the structures, ducts, conduits and rights-of-way for pole attachments. 

Congress should also expand the FCC’s authority to include pole attachments for structures owned by federal, state and local governments and railroads. “Unsurprisingly, I’ve heard from ISPs that many pole-attachment disputes arise from these particular pole owners, who may have little interest in negotiating just and reasonable rates for private actors to access their rights-of-way. Congress could easily fix this gap.”

He supports the creation of a Broadband Development Advisory Committee to draft model code for cities and towns that want to encourage wireless development. The model code would include local franchising, zoning, permitting and rights-of-way regulations. The committee would examine what policies have worked across the country and then make its recommendations to the Commission, says Pai.

The feds need to speed up broadband deployment on federal lands, advises Pai. And “dig once” should be a core part of federal transportation policy, he believes. The concept — every highway construction project should include the installation of the conduit that can carry fiber.   

November 3, 2016

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