Blog November 5, 2020

Rural Broadband Solutions: How to Quickly Close the Gap

Connectivity is a game changer, and high-speed broadband access can create new opportunities for more people to thrive in the 21st Century regardless of whether they live in a small town or an urban center. But too many Americans remain unconnected, the vast majority – 82% of them according to the Federal Communications Commission – live in rural areas.

Charter recently hosted a virtual briefing to explore policy changes that would have real, tangible impacts on broadband buildout, particularly in rural areas. The briefing, “Rural Broadband Solutions: How to Quickly Close the Gap” brought together panelists representing diverse groups all focused on expanding broadband access into rural areas, including: 

  • Maurita Coley, President and CEO, Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) 
  • Michelle Connolly, Professor of the Practice of Economics, Duke University & Former Chief Economist at the FCC 
  • Brian Hurley, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, ACA Connects 
  • Katie McAuliffe, Federal Affairs Manager, Americans for Tax Reform & Executive Director, Digital Liberty 
  • Joanna McIntosh, Senior Vice President, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association 
  • Marc Paul, Vice President, Charter Communications

As highlighted throughout the panel, one of the biggest issues that increases the cost of expanding broadband into rural areas is the complicated process for obtaining permission to attach broadband cables to utility poles. Utility poles are crucial to broadband expansion — the backbone of the communications infrastructure, especially in rural areas. Charter’s Marc Paul explains why poles are so important and how they can be so costly:

In fact, Congress recognized the importance of poles when it passed a law years ago to ensure that access to poles is fair and equitable for both pole owners and attachers.

If a pole needs to be replaced because of a new attachment, the attacher and the pole owner should share the cost. Ultimately, every excessive dollar spent by a broadband provider to gain access to a pole is one dollar less that can be spent on building broadband to more people.

To help address this issue, NCTA has a petition pending at the FCC that requests clarification of a rule that ensures pole replacement costs are allocated fairly between pole owners and pole attachers. It would also expedite the resolution of disputes between pole owners and pole attachers. By acting on this petition the FCC has a real opportunity to jump start rural broadband buildout and make pole costs more transparent, equitable, and fair.

Other policy changes addressed by the panel included the elimination of Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) requirements, prioritizing areas without high-speed internet access, and the importance of technology neutrality. 

You can watch the full briefing to here:

Charter is committed to expanding access to this life-changing connectivity—in just the last two years we built out our network to more than 1.5 million unserved or underserved homes and businesses, about a third of that in rural areas. And from 2015–2019, we invested nearly $40 billion in infrastructure and technology to expand the reach of our network. We remain committed to being part of the solution to closing the digital divide for good and will continue to make investments in our network to reach more unserved, including rural, areas.