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Verizon supports controversial rule that could help Google Fiber expand

Verizon asks FCC to speed up fiber deployment, but cable lobby is against it.

Verizon is supporting a controversial rule that would help network operators deploy fiber much more quickly by giving them faster access to utility poles.

So-called “One Touch Make Ready” rules let ISPs make all of the necessary wire adjustments on utility poles themselves instead of having to wait for other providers like AT&T and Comcast to send work crews to move their own wires. Some cities passed their own One Touch Make Ready rules in order to help Google Fiber compete against incumbents. When Nashville passed such a rule, it was sued by Comcast and AT&T. When Louisville passed a similar rule, it was sued by AT&T and Charter.

Incumbent broadband providers usually think alike when it comes to regulation and competition. But Verizon, which is planning to deploy a lot of fiber to support its wireless network, has asked the Federal Communications Commission to allow One Touch Make Ready in states that follow FCC pole attachment processes.

Verizon outlined its support for One Touch Make Ready yesterday in a blog post and an FCC filing. Verizon notes that it is in a unique position as “one of the few broadband providers with experience both as a pole owner and as a wireline and wireless attacher to other people’s poles.”

“As a nationwide wireless provider, we attach our equipment to poles owned by both Verizon and by other entities nationwide,” Verizon Associate General Counsel Katharine Saunders wrote in the blog post. “With 4G densification and 5G—each of which relies on a dense network of small cell antennae—the pole attachment process becomes all the more important. As we roll out next-generation wireless technology, we need practices and processes that will increase the speed and efficiency for getting new broadband facilities out in the field.”

Verizon continued:

Under the current system, a new attacher must contact a pole owner to get permission to attach, wait for a survey, and then wait some more as each existing attacher moves or adjusts [its] attachments—a process called “make-ready” (literally, making the pole ready for the new attachment). Right now, this often proceeds sequentially, with multiple reviews and truck rolls for each of the providers already attached to the pole. It can take six months to a year—and piles of paperwork—to get a new attachment approved and placed on a pole.

One truck roll to make all adjustments

Verizon’s proposed solution is for the FCC to authorize One Touch Make Ready as an alternative to existing pole attachment processes.

“We suggest that new attachers should have the option of using pre-approved, licensed, and insured contractors to coordinate with all of the providers already attached to the pole and to do all the work to add a new attachment at one time,” Verizon wrote. “Instead of the current ungainly process, there would be one truck roll to make all of the adjustments to existing attachments and to add the new attachment.”

The FCC could require the use of “qualified, licensed contractors who are approved by pole owners” in order to satisfy safety concerns, Verizon said. The FCC could also leave the current process intact for network builders “who do not wish to take on the responsibility for conducting an engineering survey, estimating the necessary make-ready work, and doing one-touch make-ready through an approved contractor.”

The FCC’s pole attachment rules apply to privately owned poles except when states opt out of the federal regime and come up with their own method of regulating pole attachments. While the FCC rules apply in most of the country, 20 states and Washington, DC, have opted out of the federal pole attachment rules. Regardless of whether a state has opted out, the FCC rules do not apply to poles owned by municipalities and cooperatives.

Verizon’s FCC filing came in response to the commission asking for comments on One Touch Make Ready and other methods of speeding up broadband deployment. Current FCC rules allow for up to a five-month waiting period before new ISPs can install wires on utility poles that already hold the wires of incumbent providers, as we’ve previously written.

A proposal from Chairman Ajit Pai could shave a couple of months off the maximum waiting periods even if the FCC doesn’t adopt any One Touch Make Ready requirements. Google Fiber told the FCC that it is “pleased the commission is taking up the issue of pole attachment timing.”

Google Fiber blamed incumbents for pole delays

Google Fiber has blamed other providers for not providing prompt access to utility poles, saying at one point that it was waiting for access to thousands of poles in Nashville because AT&T and Comcast hadn’t moved their own wires to make room for Google Fiber’s. (Most of the poles in Nashville are owned by the Nashville Electric Service, while AT&T is the second biggest owner of utility poles in the city.)

The Alphabet division that operates Google Fiber last year started laying employees off and decided to “pause” or end fiber operations in 10 cities where it hadn’t yet fully committed to building. Google Fiber has also begun using wireless networking technologies instead of fiber in some cities. But it hasn’t completely given up on fiber-to-the-home, and its wireless subsidiary also deploys some fiber, so it could still benefit from an expansion of One Touch Make Ready rules.

Major cable operators urged the FCC to keep existing processes in place.

“The commission should reject extreme forms of ‘one touch’ make ready,” NCTA—The Internet & Television Association, the biggest cable lobby group, wrote. “Instead, any new approach should be grounded in the ‘right touch’ principle that existing attachers must be provided with adequate prior notice of all planned work and a meaningful opportunity to perform the required make-ready work themselves, as is required by Section 224(h).”

Charter also argued against One Touch Make Ready, saying that “such regulations have led to significant damage to Charter’s facilities in locations where they have been adopted.”

One Touch Make Ready does have support from the American Cable Association, which represents small and medium-sized providers. The group proposed a variation that would trigger a One Touch process if a utility or ISP fails to complete make-ready work in a timely manner.

Disclosure: The Advance/Newhouse Partnership, which owns about 13 percent of Charter, is part of Advance Publications. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast, which owns Ars Technica.

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