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Utility Pole Strategy

Why are utility poles critical to broadband deployment?

Utility poles are a critical part of Maine’s broadband infrastructure. Because of the rocky terrain in Maine, wired networks are almost always less expensive and quicker to install aerially on existing utility poles, rather than underground. MCA-funded projects will require access to tens of thousands of utility poles across the state.

 

The scale of this investment means that even small improvements over the existing process are likely to save millions of dollars and speed deployment by months or years.

“An efficient and reliable pole attachment process is critical to MCA
achieving universal broadband deployment in a timely manner."

MCA Contact

Kiera Reardon, State Policy & Agency Partnerships Manager
kreardon@maineconnectivity.org | (207) 370-4123

What is the problem?

The current process to attach equipment and fiber to utility poles is daunting and opaque – with even experienced providers expressing confusion about basic steps in the process, and unable to reliably predict the cost of installation at the outset of a project. This leads to cost overruns, construction delays, and can even deter projects from happening altogether.

 

The magnitude of MCA’s investment in broadband infrastructure over the next 3-5 years will place unprecedented pressure on a process that is already experiencing delays and inefficiencies.

Fiber-Optic-Cable-lineman-Josh-Landry-Dedham-Maine

Photo by Carolyn Campbell

The Parts of A Utility Pole

Click to enlarge

How can MCA Help?

MCA is uniquely positioned to monitor the pole attachment process and drive changes to mitigate the problems experienced by pole owners and attachers. MCA will take a proactive approach in the pole process by convening stakeholders outside of the regulatory process, sharing best practices, providing targeted technical assistance and advocacy, and strategically offsetting costs. MCA can ensure that state and federal funding is used efficiently and effectively to deploy broadband to Maine homes and businesses as quickly as possible. 

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Maine Connectivity Authority's Utilty Pole strategy includes the following actions: 

  1. Convene key stakeholders communities, ISPs, pole owners, and the PUC (Q2 2023)

  2. Pole attachment timeline compliance (Q1-Q3 2023)

  3. Develop and disseminate educational materials (Q3 2023)

  4. Develop pilot program to off set utility pole costs (CME Review June 2023)

  5. Target interventions in the pole attachment process (Q3 2023)

Convene key stakeholders, communities, ISPs, pole owners, and the PUC

  • Gather information to hone strategy and develop a pole attachment guide complete with timelines, contacts, and status updates.  Findings from this investigation can inform both MCA programming, partnerships and policy priorities.

  • Convene group meeting starting with a topical focus by the Broadband Working Group to review the developed process and identify opportunities to eliminate redundancy
     

Monitor pole attachment timeline compliance

  • Develop methodology with the Last Mile Grants Committee to aggregate make ready costs and the number of poles for funded projects

  • Build pole attachment questions into MCA's awardee quarterly reporting in the grants portal

  • Send bi-weekly pole process touch point emails to attachers.  Convene monthly check-ins with pole owners to review reporting data and identify efficiencies

  • Establish regular updates to PUC and the public on reported performance
     

Develop and disseminate educational materials

  • Articulate the flow of the pole attachment process to attribute costs and timing for collective awareness and identify incremental points of improvement.

  • Work with pole owners and existing attachers to create informational materials to create a common familiarity with the process and requirements as they evolve.

  • Deliver these resources to MCA planning and capacity-building grantees and support an ongoing community of practice at local and regional levels

  • Support focused workshops and learning sessions for early-stage efforts / new market entrants

  • Develop a How-To Guide for the PUC's Rapid Response Process

Develop a pilot program to offset utility pole costs

  • Identify strategic intervention points to reduce costs for community-driven initiatives, including subsidizing insurance liability and pole surveying and application costs. 

  • Trial this effort in Franklin County in 2023 to leverage existing investments and construction in motion and draw upon eligible funding. Evaluation of efficiencies and improved processes will inform stakeholder engagement, technical assistance and agency coordination.

Target interventions in the pole attachment process

  • Review current projects to detail contract negotiation bottlenecks.

  • Develop a pilot program or statutory solution to the liability Insurance requirement for municipally owned projects

  • Create a resource guide for communities needing an irrevocable line of credit

  • Work with pole owners to standardize requirements across owner and projects

  • Support improved, shareable data collection across projects

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Starting in 2023, increasing utility pole access, decreasing costs, and improving information flow and absorption will be key strategic objectives for the Maine Connectivity Authority. MCA will address and provide this support through the Broadband Action Plan; the interagency Broadband Working Group; technical assistance delivered through the Get Ready Community Support Program; capacity building through the Regional and Tribal Broadband Partners program, and Connect The Ready cohorts.  

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