Skip to main content
Utility Pole Spectrum Employee

Network Investment and Access

Expediting Connections in Rural Areas: Utility Poles & Railroad Crossings

May 10, 2024

Share Article:

Charter has undertaken a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar Rural Construction Initiative that has us building over 100,000 miles of new fiber-optic network infrastructure – long enough to circle the earth’s equator more than four times. When finished, Charter’s Rural Construction Initiative will have delivered symmetrical and multi-gigabit speed internet access to approximately 1.75 million homes and small businesses across the country.

We’re already making great progress. In 2023 alone, our Rural Construction Initiative delivered internet access to 295,000 new locations and an additional approximately 450,000 new locations are expected to be activated in 2024.

In recent years, state and federal policymakers have similarly prioritized closing the nation’s digital divide – with a particular focus on expanding quality high-speed internet access to reach millions in unserved rural communities. The $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program for example represents the largest single investment in broadband expansion in history.

Whether rural broadband programs are ultimately successful depends on a number of factors, but two barriers could significantly hinder efforts in programs like BEAD:


To provide internet to a home, internet service providers (ISPs) like Charter typically attach infrastructure to utility poles. Faster access to poles can shave months – or even years – off of the time to deploy broadband. While many pole owners welcome ISPs wanting to rent space on their poles, some refuse to issue permits unless the ISP first agrees to buy new poles – even though the pole owner will still own the pole, charge the ISP annual rent, and may receive an annual tax break. There has been an influx in federal and state funding to support broadband buildouts, and some pole owners are essentially taking advantage of rural investment programs to shift the cost of replacing old or damaged poles onto taxpayers. This trend threatens to consume funding resources that would otherwise go to expanding broadband access in as many unserved and underserved locations as possible.

  • What’s the solution? State and federal leaders can adopt pole-related reforms to ensure time is not wasted and that public and private sector investment in rural broadband deployment actually goes towards reaching unserved homes and businesses. You can learn more about the importance of utility poles in this short video by Connect the Future.


To connect homes across the country, internet cables often need to cross railroad tracks – either by being buried beneath the tracks or strung high above them on utility poles. But even though this work is often completed in less than an hour without interrupting train service or even touching train tracks, for years, railroads have demanded excessive fees and taken months to approve these deployments.

  • What’s the solution? Simple changes can help address this deployment barrier. Lawmakers can develop a clear process by:
    • Implementing simple notice requirements and removing burdensome application processes, especially for infrastructure placed in public rights of way,
    • Eliminating license fees for infrastructure built in public rights of way,
    • Standardizing fees for crossings in private railroad land and other related fees,
    • Establishing expedited dispute resolution processes for crossings related to broadband infrastructure builds, and/or require ISPs to maintain liability insurance.  
  • For example: In Wisconsin, crossing fees are limited to $500. In North Dakota and South Dakota, crossing fees are limited to $750 plus reimbursement for any flagging expenses. States like IllinoisIowaMinnesotaNebraskaUtah, and Virginia have also proactively addressed railroad crossing reforms, such as Illinois’ statute that allows telecommunications providers to place well-engineered crossings in public rights of way 30 days after providing notice, payment, and appropriate engineering specifications, eliminating time-consuming application and approval processes. Similar common-sense reforms would remove a significant barrier that often slows down broadband deployment in rural areas.

Closing the digital divide is a national priority, and Charter is working with stakeholders to help make it a reality. By tackling delays and barriers like access to utility poles and railroad crossings, federal, state, and local broadband officials can maximize the substantial investments being made to connect rural communities and reach more families in need of reliable connectivity.