An easy way for the FCC to boost wireless competition
By Elizabeth Hyman and Matt Starr
Jul 26 2017
Everyone wants faster wireless speeds and broader connectivity. How many of us have shaken our fists in collective frustration when the speed of our devices hasn’t kept up with speed of our lives?
Of course, wireless and broadband connectivity is about much more than checking email on the street corner or accessing Facebook at the beach. It’s becoming a necessity for day-to-day life in America. It’s the engine driving the future of innovation, from Smart Cities and the Internet of Things to self-driving vehicles and streaming content.
Luckily, the next generation of wireless is on its way. Advances in broadband infrastructure and small cell technology have heralded the advent of 5G wireless, which will bring faster speeds, lower latency, and more capacity than today’s networks.
Companies like Verizon, Google and AT&T have been testing and deploying innovative broadband infrastructure to support 5G technology for more than a year now. But the effort to build the infrastructure to support that technology has been hampered by anti-competitive behavior and out-of-date regulations.
Most people may not realize it, but installing the physical infrastructure for a wireless world is laborious and methodical work. Internet service providers need to attach wires or fiber to actual utility poles. Those poles are often owned by either local utilities or legacy ISPs.
When a company deploys a network in a new market or expands a network in an existing one, it often needs to attach its wires to thousands of poles. Under current regulations, companies that are already on the poles must physically move their wires on the pole to make room for the new provider.
That process creates incentives for existing providers to block and delay new competitors in the market. Current rules require new competitors to wait up to five months before beginning the process of wiring existing utility poles. It can take even longer for large requests. The fines that legacy companies incur for needlessly dragging out the process have become, for some, the price of doing business.
The Federal Communications Commission is considering regulatory changes that would increase broadband competition, improve speeds, lower customer costs, and help pave the way for the next generation of both wired and wireless networks.
Increased broadband competition will not just make the average consumer experience more gratifying; building a nimble infrastructure today will power the jobs and innovation of tomorrow by providing all industries with the technological tools they need to compete on a global stage. And a national plan would help to bridge the digital divide by hastening broadband deployment in underserved communities — a priority identified by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai earlier this year.
As it considers these changes, the FCC should do what forward-thinking cities around the country have already done — adopt rules that speed up the process for attaching broadband wires and fiber to utility poles. Several cities in the U.S have implemented a process called “one-touch, make-ready,” which allows new broadband competitors to hire utility-approved contractors to do the work instead of having to wait for legacy companies to act. Such an approach would cut months off the pole attachment process, bringing new choices in broadband to consumers faster.