Hurricanes, a pandemic and then a massive snowstorm have heightened the importance of access to broadband in Texas, and many legislators – and indeed the governor – have taken up the cause as an emergency item this session. Bills to expand access to broadband are moving through the legislative process, and this priority of Gov. Greg Abbott is receiving bipartisan, public and other widespread support, including from the Texas cable industry.
The Texas Cable Association (TCA) and our five member cable companies are the state’s leading broadband providers and have invested billions of dollars in broadband infrastructure and access programs in the past decade.
While cable fully backs the goal to connect more Texans to broadband, achieving it will require passage of House Bill 1505 by state Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall) to remove antiquated regulations and other barriers that hamper broadband deployment.
The need to eliminate deployment obstacles was a key finding of the Governor’s Broadband Development Council, created in the last legislative session. Its first report, issued in November, stated, “Regulatory barriers, such as restrictive or burdensome local and state permitting processes, can unnecessarily delay broadband buildouts, slow transitions from legacy networks and services to the next generation networks, and impede wireless infrastructure projects to deploy advanced networks. High costs and lengthy processes for utilizing facilities along the path of deployment can also prove problematic.”
That certainly applies to one of the biggest roadblocks faced by broadband providers who want to serve new areas in Texas – access to utility poles. These poles are an important method by which broadband providers can deploy service. As such, utility poles form the backbone of our state’s communications infrastructure.
Currently, a broadband provider places – or attaches – its network equipment to these poles which zig zag the state. Poles owned by investor-owned or municipal utilities are covered by definite rules that cover the timing and cost to access the pole. But no similar rules exist if the pole is owned by an electric cooperative.
In addition, if a pole needs to be replaced in order to accommodate broadband infrastructure attachment, no rules determine who pays the cost – the pole owner or the broadband provider – or whether it should be shared. Currently, some utilities delay replacing a pole, even if it is at the end of its useful life, until an attachment request is made by a broadband provider. The utility then can shift the entire replacement cost to the broadband company.
As a result, bringing high-speed internet to rural areas can be time consuming and expensive. In fact, as much as one-third of the total cost to the broadband provider in rural areas comes from these utility make-ready costs, including pole replacements – even before the first piece of broadband network infrastructure has been installed.
Because of this, TCA supports House Bill 1505 that would create rules and regulatory certainty to the process for electric cooperative pole attachments.
While Texas cable providers are advocating for new rules, we still intend to follow FCC rules in place for other electric utilities and enter into individual pole attachment agreements with the cooperatives, pay rent that the cooperatives set on installed attachments, obtain all necessary rights-of-way or easements needed for the attachments, and share in or pay reasonable pole replacement costs.
But broadband deployment – the ultimate goal – will be hastened by streamlining processes, reducing delays and reigning in excessive costs. After all, it isn’t the broadband providers that are harmed; it’s the rural Texans living in these areas who need and deserve broadband access.
We encourage you to join TCA in support of House 1505 – please contact your state representative and senator and tell them to help eliminate roadblocks that keep Texans from getting vital broadband access. Click here if you need help determining who represents you in the Texas Legislature and how to contact them.