June 16, 2024 7:29 pm
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Broadband-Permitting Reforms Needed to Unlock Full Potential of Bipartisan Infrastructure Act | Opinion

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By Taylor Patterson

High-speed internet for every home and business in this country has been elusive for the last twenty years despite efforts by administrations on both sides of the aisle – until now. Thanks to the work of leaders like Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, who worked on the bipartisan infrastructure proposal, we are on the precipice of true universal connectivity. The law allocates $65 billion to connect the remaining five percent of homes without access to high-speed internet including some of the most rural and remote areas of Nevada, including tribal lands. There’s just one thing standing in the way. Until federal leaders take action to speed access to utility poles, 100 percent connectivity will remain out of reach.

For decades, utility poles have been key to the nation’s communications infrastructure. This has only grown truer with our increasing reliance on internet. For unserved areas – communities without access to any high-speed internet infrastructure, the most efficient way to get them online is for internet service providers to attach their technology to existing utility poles. The challenge lies in the fact that most broadband providers do not own utility poles – electric companies, co-ops, local utilities and other entities do. So providers must get permission to access poles and pay a fee to affix their technology. All of which would be fine if there was a functional system governing access to poles. 

Unfortunately, the permitting process can be complicated and opaque. Not all pole owners share the same sense of urgency as unserved Nevadans do for broadband access. Even though providers have shown they are willing to pay for the costs associated with their new pole attachments, in some cases, disputes arise over the cost for access. These disputes can go on for months before they are heard and resolved. Without a system to resolve disputes or a fast-track for pole access, this process can drag out leaving unserved communities stuck without internet – again.

In the end, it’s unserved communities that suffer from this broken process. It’s children who have to do their homework in library parking lots because they don’t have internet at home or sick folks who have to drive hours to see a specialist because they don’t have access to telehealth at home. The bipartisan infrastructure law holds great promise to finally get every tribal community, house and business access to high-speed internet. We need leaders in Washington like Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen to make sure we create the correct conditions that allow this law to do what it was meant to do.

Taylor Patterson is the Executive Director of Native Voters Alliance Nevada