Leadership Blog - April 21, 2023

Advocacy Recap: Pushing for Competitive Policies, Reducing Barriers to Deployment and Robust Affordable Connection

This week was a busy one for the INCOMPAS team. From filing comments, sending letters to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Congress and monitoring the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing on breaking down barriers to deployment – we have worked hard to push the priorities that are critical to our members. Here is a quick rundown of our advocacy this week. 

Starting with the three filings we submitted this week. We covered the 12 GHz proceeding, the Digital Discrimination proceeding and the California Public Utilities Commissions (CPUC) proceeding on BEAD allocations. Each of these filings were centered on promoting competition in the marketplace, ensuring wholesale access, and increasing affordability so every American can participate in the world of connectivity.

Comments to NTIA on Spectrum Strategy 
We have been working with the 5G for 12 GHz Coalition and joined them in filing comments in response to the NTIA’s Spectrum Strategy request for comment. The 12 GHz band is uniquely situated, its lack of federal incumbents makes it simple to unleash for additional use, and its propagation characteristics have been described as the “goldilocks” of spectrum.

Unleashing the 12 GHz band would create over $1 trillion in societal value and would propel the U.S. back into a global leadership position in mid-band spectrum. America is facing stiff competition in the arena of spectrum availability and technological innovation, and the 12 GHz band represents one area where we have an easily achievable win-win for American industry and consumers, as long as the NTIA recognizes the opportunity they have available in the 12 GHz band. 

California Public Utilities Commissions Filing 
In this filing, we encouraged the CPUC to integrate competition laws as it formulates the rules and policies for implementing the BEAD program. Without competition, consumers will inevitably incur higher prices and most likely only have one choice of provider. That is why we believe it is necessary to have open access and a wholesale condition as a requirement for serving last mile customers. Monopoly policy has failed our nation time and time again, and wholesale competition delivers solutions for small businesses located in rural America who need services that help them compete on a global stage. In addition to promoting a competitive open bid process, it is vital that the CPUC address several barriers to entering the market. From reducing delays in the permitting process, to gaining more access to the public rights-of-way, these barriers pose a direct threat to deployment.

We look forward to working together with California and other state and local governments to ensure this historic amount of funding is allocated to the most resilient and cost-effective networks. Using this money for scalable future-proof networks will ensure this investment is used wisely and will be beneficial for generations to come.

Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Hearing on Breaking Down Barriers to Deployment
Turning to the hill, the E&C Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing where they discussed 34 different proposed bills to help streamline the permitting process and ensure that broadband networks can deploy quickly and cost effectively. We have been working on these issues in a number of different ways. Specifically for this hearing, we sent a statement in support of Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher’s Broadband Community Act which plays a vital role in ensuring local offices have the resources they need to deploy the BEAD funds quickly and effectively. 

We also sent a letter applauding the draft Fair Poles Act, recognizing that it is a great first step to address this ongoing problem. In addition to voicing our support for this bill, we also supported a letter earlier this week that was signed by 16 of our member companies urging the FCC to move forward on their pending poles proceeding. For far too long pole owners have exploited their monopoly power and have pushed the costs of pole replacement onto providers who are attaching to the pole. Our members typically pay between $6,000-$30,000 to replace one pole. As a result, this severely limits their resources and causes them to either adjust their deployment plans or simply not extend their networks as far as they possibly could. INCOMPAS and our members will continue to press forward in order to solve this ongoing problem and reach a resolution so we can bridge the digital divide.

Another huge hurdle that the committee recognized was railroad crossings.  A number of our members have sent examples of their experiences with the railroads, and they have been asked to pay up to $40,000 per crossing and in some cases have waited up to 18 months for permitting approval. These costly and unnecessary delays are one of the biggest roadblocks to deployment and we will continue to work with the Congressional offices to try to put forth a legislative solution to remedy this issue. 

Affordable Connectivity Program
One big thing that goes hand in hand with deployment is affordability. This issue also came up in the hearing as a potential hindrance to deployment. The Affordable Connectivity Program has been one of the most successful programs in actually connecting households to the internet. This program has currently helped more than 14 million households gain connection. Which means they can now participate in the global marketplace, complete online college courses, or get that tele-health check up from the doctor that they’ve been putting off. This connection is far more than just a piece of fiber powering their internet, it is a lifeline that opens an entire world of possibilities. This program has been critical for so many and is in danger of ending next May if Congress does not extend funding. We will continue to press this issue and raise awareness to ensure this funding is allocated and this program can continue to connect millions of Americans who need it most. 

As you can see, this was a busy week that encompassed a large portion of the issues we set out to focus on in our policy priorities we wrote about earlier this year. Our main goal is to advocate on behalf of all our members to encourage and implement pro-competition policies that will expand access to better, faster, more affordable connectivity. We will continue to work hard to accomplish this goal and look forward to continuing advocating on these important issues.