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Yesterday, the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) met to discuss the progress their working groups have made on creating model codes at the state and municipal levels, as well as to discuss more generally the barriers to broadband deployment.  If you have been following this issue you are aware that Federal Communication Commission (FCC) created the BDAC and tasked it with examining current barriers to broadband deployment and making recommendations to the FCC on how to best overcome these barriers to accelerate the deployment of broadband throughout the country.

While the Committee has yet to conclusively identify what the barriers to deployment are, the discussions alluded to a potential few.  One sentiment that was echoed by nearly all members of the working group, which is made up nearly exclusively from industry participants, is that the variety of regulations amongst local governments is by far the biggest obstacle to widespread broadband deployment.  Some committee members even went as far as to advocate for the FCC to step in and overrule the local governments by creating a set of nationwide standards for municipal permitting procedures and Right of Way (ROW) access, at least when broadband deployment is concerned.

A second potential barrier discussed concerned the fees and stipulations utility companies have instituted on pole access.  While addressing their potential to be labeled as a barrier, a committee member representing electricity providers servicing rural areas made note that a few of the suppliers she represents have offered pole access free of charge if a broadband provider wanted to come to those rural towns and provide broadband.  Not a single provider took advantage of these offers.  If the broadband providers were indeed seeking their stated altruistic goal of providing everyone with broadband service surely they would have eagerly pursued this opportunity.  The fact that they did not speaks for itself.

This meeting is a foreshadowing of what is to come – rulemaking by the FCC that would take all power from local governments to control their ROW and other permitting.  The most concerning part of this entire process is the limited voice given to local government in contrast to the heavy involvement of industry participants.

The industry is seeking to deploy its services in the most inexpensive way it can, by forcing local governments to give them access to municipal ROW and disregarding legitimate concerns of municipalities and taxpayers.  While providing broadband access to everyone is a worthwhile goal it should not be accomplished through the means suggested.  Each municipality is unique and the local governments are in the best position to know what needs to be done to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their residents.   Allowing a one-size-fits-all approach at a national or even statewide level for broadband deployment is, in essence, making the determination that the deployment of broadband trumps these concerns.

The BDAC’s will meet again in the fall to review the municipal and state model codes currently being prepared by their respective working groups.  Along with these model codes, the working groups hope to provide an explanatory document which will discuss the thought process and reasoning used in their development.  We eagerly await the model codes and the explanatory documents which will likely be developed strongly in favor of the industry participants, given their strong presence in the committee.  To view a list of the BDAC members please click here and to see a list of the member of each model code working group please click here.  You can view a recording of the BDAC meeting here.

Contact:  Frank Marshall, Esq., League Staff Attorney, fmarshall@njslom.org, 609-695-3481 x137.

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