Poles and right of way

I'm on location this week, planning a major fiber build for a region of eight communities that have decided they can't wait any longer for world class connectivity and services. It's a rural area with lots of two lane roads. One of the things Design Nine is doing is surveying right of way and existing pole infrastructure.

It's a gloomy picture. The phone company has not invested much here, ever, and as new capacity was needed, they just lashed more copper cables to the poles, rather than running fiber closer to customers and using remote switches to provide better services, like DSL. In many locations, we have picture of poles with 4 phone cables lashed to them, meaning there is no pole space left for community fiber. We also have pictures where the phone cable sag is more than three feet, meaning that even if there is space on the pole itself to add another cable, the sag would have to be corrected first. That is very costly.

A bill called COPE (HR 5252) is currently being debated in Congress, and it is a mixed bag for communities, with mostly negative consequences. COPE would allow video providers to obtain national franchises for video services, which would open up competition; basically, it would enable the phone companies to quickly get start offering the equivalent of CATV/satellite TV in many places, and would provide alternatives in both rural and urban areas. That's the good part of the bill.

The bad part of the bill is that communities would lost most control over their own rights of way. The FCC would become the arbiter, and the big companies could come into any community and demand right of way access. Some of the national franchise fees would be returned to the community, but arbitration and disputes would be handled by the FCC, which would be a nightmare for smaller communities that don't have big budgets for extended legal battles in Washington, D.C.

Local elected and appointed officials need to get on the phone and talk to their Federal congressmen and Senators and tell them to protect the rights of communities before giving the store to the phone companies. In the next 3 to 5 years, the telecom battle, as I have been warning communities since the late nineties, is going to be over real estate (right of way), and not whether WiMax is going to be better than fiber. Don't let hardware vendors sell your community a bill of goods (literally) while ignoring the more important and broader telecom planning issues like right of way and economic development strategies.

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