What’s blocking more broadband? The humble utility pole

Internet access for individual homes and businesses in this country has been elusive for 20 years, despite initiatives from both sides of the administration hall — until now. With incredible work by the Biden Administration and leaders like US Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennett, Colorado and the rest of America have a historic opportunity to close the digital divide once and for all.

Bipartisan infrastructure package invests $65 billion to connect the remaining 6% of American homes without access to high-speed internet, including some of Colorado’s most rural and remote areas. With more than 6% (approximately 350,000 residents) of Coloradans lacking access to broadband according to Broadband Now, we are especially concerned that a portion of this historic investment for the foundation of federally allocated broadband is not used to preserve Coloradans.

As an educator and Adams 12 Five Star School Board of Education member, I have seen firsthand the effects that the pandemic has had on student learning across our state. While some parents or care providers were able to stay at home with their children, helping them navigate online and learn at home, a large proportion of parents had to work to pay the rent or mortgage and provide food. at the table for their families, leaving them in the lurch to act as a remote teaching assistant and provider for their family.

Furthermore, many families did not have access to the Internet during the pandemic. As a result, students have been forced to walk to school parking lots and connect to the school’s internet to attend school during the pandemic.

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Now that we have this once-in-a-generation opportunity to level the digital playing field, we need the federal government to remove the barriers to success – to ensure that our elected leaders in Colorado can do their part to improve our level. the nation’s access to the pole rules. A successful, expeditious expansion will require many changes to be made in the pole approach.

Utility poles play a critical role in our communications infrastructure, which has only grown more true with our reliance on the internet. For protected areas – communities without access to any high-speed internet infrastructure – the most efficient way to get them online is for internet service providers to attach their technology to existing poles.

But most of the broad providers do not have a pole of their own interest; small utilities, co-ops, electric companies and other entities do. Therefore, providers must give permission to access the poles and pay to install their technology.

All of this would be fine if access to the control poles were a service.

Unfortunately, the permitting process can be complex and opaque. Not all pole owners share the same sense of urgency as the unknown colorados do to access broadband. Although providers have shown that they are willing to pay the costs associated with new pole attachments, in some cases, disputes arise over the cost of access. These disputes can go on for several months before they are heard and then resolved.

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Without a system to resolve disputes or access to a rapid access pole, this process can be drawn out, subsequently leaving hidden communities stuck without internet access and therefore in need of critical services, including remote learning, telehealth and more.

Rural Americans lack about ten times as much access as those in urban areas. Put this in perspective: while 6% of the country lacks access to expanding infrastructure, that figure rises to more than 24 percent in rural areas. In addition, more than one in six people living in poverty have no internet access.

Coloradans and Americans alike need solutions that fix and reform a broken, long-overdue system, or the millions of Americans who want to be helped by the infrastructure bill will face the same connectivity challenges that have held them back for generations.

Congress can build on its excellent work on infrastructure, accelerate action to access poles and resolve disputes over pole supply, so we can use this opportunity to bring the internet to every home and business. Many Americans count on our leaders to connect with one another. Congress should establish clear guidelines for resolving disputes between pole owners and providers quickly so that infrastructure expansion is not recklessly delayed.

Bipartisan infrastructure legislation holds the great promise that eventually every home and business will get access to high-speed Internet. The leaders of Washington acted like Senones. Hickenlooper and Benet that we create the right conditions that allow this law to do what it was designed to do.

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Lori Goldstein lives in Westminster.

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