Bipartisan CLIMB ONCE, Conduit Deployment Acts aim to curb broadband deployment barriers

two utility workers setting up a fiber cabinet on a sidewalk
Two lawmakers have introduced bills to streamline broadband deployment on utility poles and city streets (btphotosbduk).

While it’s a rare occurrence that Republicans and Democrats can agree on anything these days, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., did just that by introducing two bills focused on improving access to utility poles and simplifying the method to lay fiber conduit along new roadways.

The first bill is the CLIMB ONCE Act, which is focused on easing the so-called make-ready process. Traditionally, owners of network and related equipment had to be asked to assess and move their wires whenever a new competitor needed to string conduit and fiber cable.

This process has always been an expensive and cumbersome process because each individual equipment owner sends their own contractor to move their equipment before new equipment can be installed. Spearheaded by Google Fiber and other competitive providers, there’s been a growing call for a one-touch-make-ready process, where the owners of utility poles allow a single construction crew to make changes or move existing wires on a pole.

RELATED: Eshoo/Walden Dig Once bill is promising for carrier fiber installations, but will it see the light of day?

With the CLIMB ONCE Act, the intent is to prevent federal laws from impeding the ability of states and localities to implement “climb once” policies if they choose to, and directs the FCC to establish best practices and model policies that states and local governments may use to shape their own one-touch-make-ready implementation.

The CLIMB ONCE Act is the third in a series of bills Eshoo introduced on broadband access with the goals of expanding access, reducing costs and increasing consumer choice.

Additionally, the CLIMB ONCE Act of 2018 will clarify that Section 224 of the Communications Act does not preempt states from passing one-touch-make-ready policies when it comes to new pole attachments.

OTMR, while a compelling idea, has been nothing short of controversial. AT&T, which sued communities like Louisville, Kentucky for passing an OTMR ordinance, said that the Nashville city council overstepped its boundaries in enacting a reformed pole attachment process. Ultimately, a district court dismissed AT&T’s suit against the metro government.

But the telco is not stopping its protest of proposed OTMR ordinances.

In a recent FCC filing (PDF), AT&T suggested that the FCC consider an OTMR rule that would limit the process to routine transfers on existing utility poles. AT&T said that applying this concept would reduce the possibility that existing services would be interrupted during the OTMR process.

By introducing the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2018, which will require all new federally-funded roads to include a broadband conduit, communities will eliminate the need to dig up recently constructed roads when deploying new networks. This process, the lawmakers say, will drastically reduce deployment costs.

“These bills are a set of common sense, targeted proposals designed to empower states and local governments to bridge the digital divide because far too many consumers lack access to a choice of providers,” Eshoo said in a statement. “With ‘climb once’ policies, broadband deployment becomes more efficient and less expensive when fewer construction crews are needed to prepare and attach new equipment to poles. A more efficient ‘make ready’ process can make communities more attractive to new broadband providers, leading to better service, lower prices, faster speeds and more choices for consumers.”

Chip Pickering, CEO of INOMPAS, an industry trade group focused on competitive providers, said these bills will lower prices and enhance competitive choice.

“We look forward to working with Congress to enact a future-forward deployment agenda this year,” Pickering said. “For too long outdated regulations stood as roadblocks to true broadband competition. It’s more than time for 'Dig Once' and 'Climb Once' to be the industry standard.”