As Maine moves ahead with plans to implement its broadband strategy, it has had to grapple with the complex issue of utility pole ownership and placement, reports GovTech.com. Maine voters approved the broadband expansion plans last summer, and a recent award of $5.6 million in federal coronavirus relief funds has provided the backing. As the state begins its outreach, it is learning that there is a lot more involved than simply stringing fiber cable further down the line, according to the account.
“The pole attachment of fiber has been one large and surprisingly complex barrier to getting fiber built out sooner,” said Commissioner Bruce Williamson, of the Public Utilities Commission. “Access to poles, and getting fiber on them, is a costly process.”
Williamson said that he and his fellow commissioners have been working on the utility pole conundrum since 2015. “When you have a pole-attachment process that is clear and easier and faster,” said Nick Battista, chair of the ConnectME Authority and senior policy officer with the Island Institute, “the public subsidy goes further and the work goes faster.”
Battista spoke at a webinar where he encouraged attendees to look for “ways to create the environment necessary to help speed up the development of reliable, high-speed internet networks throughout Maine.”
The state is pondering a “one-touch, make-ready” plan already underway in other states. If adopted, costs could be reduced by approximately 40 percent. This approach enables a technician to make room for new wiring by moving gear from other current attachments to a pole. Under the present system, each company must move its own gear.
“To the extent we can facilitate efficient communication and efficient contractual relationships,” said Mike Chowaniec, Vice President of Charter Communications, “that’s going to speed up buildout and that’s going to avoid disputes.”
There is a sense of urgency to speed up the process as students and businesses struggle to operate from home. Taking a longer view, Lori Parham spoke on behalf of AARP, noting that statistics indicate that the 50+ population is conducting more and more business online. “As we look to attract people to retire here [Maine], as we hope that people will stay here, it’s going to be important that we build out a strong internet system statewide,” Parham said.