FCC Advances Utility Pole Rules That Google Fiber Backs

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By Jon Reid

The Federal Communications Commission adopted an order giving internet service providers faster access to utility poles, a move supported by providers such as Alphabet Inc.'s Google Fiber.

The order, which the commission approved at its Aug. 2 meeting, establishes new utility pole regulations aimed at increasing competition among providers and reducing network build-out costs. The new rules are a major part of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s push to expand internet access to underserved regions.

“For a competitive entrant, especially a small company, breaking into the market can be hard, if not impossible, if your business plan relies on other entities to make room for you on those poles,” Pai said before the vote.

Pai and fellow GOP commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr voted to approve the rules. Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel approved in part and dissented in part.

The new regulations are known as “one touch make ready” because they allow companies to move pre-existing telephone, cable, and internet equipment on poles to make space for new broadband infrastructure, such as fiber optic cables. The company would be required to use a work contractor approved by the utility pole owner.

The new process is backed by upstart and smaller ISPs such Google Fiber that have struggled to gain access to utility poles to build out their networks. The pre-existing pole rules required each company to move their own pole equipment, a process that can take as long as nine months, according to Google Fiber. Verizon Communications Inc., which has its own fiber optics network, FiOS, also supports the order.

Some ISPs with large market shares, including AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp., have raised concerns about the potential for equipment damage and potential service outages.

The Communications Workers of America, a union that represents 700,000 workers in telecommunications and media workers, has also voiced public safety concerns. The group argues that the new process puts “unskilled, untrained, low-wage contractors” in charge of installing and repairing utility lines.

Rosenworcel said she supports the “one touch make ready” rule in concept but has concerns that the FCC order, as written, could spur legal disputes that further delay pole access.

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