It’s an issue that cable has complained about for years, but a new FCC proceeding has raised hope that there could be some relief coming soon on the arduous process of pole attachments.

“The Commission for a long time took a hands-off approach… And thought this was an area where the market was most efficient to resolve” any problems, FCC Wireline deputy bureau chief Madeleine Findley said at The Independent Show Monday. But then, in 2011 as the agency delved into the make-ready process there were so many complaints about delays in attachments, she said. “We’ve been watching to see how things developed since then. We continue to hear there are problems and complaints.”

In April, the FCC voted on an infrastructure proceeding that could mean sweeping changes for pole attachments. The currently open docket asks questions such as whether a utility should make a decision on a pole attachment application within a shorter timeframe than the current 45 days and if there should be a 180-day shot clock for the Commission to act on pole attachment complaints.

Ervin Cable Construction vp Bo Gresham has first-hand experience with waiting on pole attachment approvals. “All our customers want us to go aerial because of costs and speed,” he explained. But if applications to attach aren’t approved, his team has to deal with locates and permits to go underground, causing more delay.

One issue wireless and cable provider Shentel has run into is the actual condition of the poles. There are poles that the electric companies should have been upgraded many years ago, but in “many cases we are being asked to pay for 100% of the upgrade to be the next attacher,” said evp, COO Earle MacKenzie. “There are extensions of broadband that we’ve had to cancel because of this.”

Those kind of stories are what operators should be sharing with the FCC, where chairman Ajit Pai has said closing the digital divide is the number one priority. “He is specifically interested in making sure that we get great broadband buildout to rural areas,” Findley told the crowd gathered for the annual conference of independent operators.

Monday’s panel also included Chattanooga mayor Andy Berke, notable because the city’s EPB (Electric Power Board) became the first municipally owned utilities company in the US to offer speeds of up to 1 Gps through fiber. While Chattanooga may be what Berke called “a testament to the power of fiber for a city transformation,” EPB’s attempts to expand service to adjacent communities were thwarted when the courts stopped the FCC from pre-empting state laws that attempted to block municipal expansion projects.

“We know the pain of not being able to build out our system,” Berke said. “Innovation can’t occur if we don’t have different ways of doing things.”

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