INCOMPAS: Deployment Barriers Hurting Effort to Close the Digital Divide


Telecommunications companies describe barriers preventing faster deployment of broadband networks

Joel Leighton INCOMPAS: Deployment Barriers Hurting Effort to Close the Digital Divide Photo of INCOMPAS attorney Angie Kronenberg, taken from trade group’s website

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2024 – Federal officials need to know that broadband internet providers continue to face deployment barriers standing in the way of closing the digital divide, especially with billions in financial support in the works.

The trade group INCOMPAS raised this issue last week in detailed comments with the Federal Communications Commission to help the agency prepare its annual State of Competition report for lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

INCOMPAS emphasized the need for faster permitting and greater utility company transparency in order for the industry to meet growing connectivity demands and connect the unserved with high-speed internet.

“INCOMPAS’ members consistently face delays in permitting and gaining access to the public rights-of-way, but we need new, fast networks, fast,” the trade group said in a detailed filing.

The comments highlighted consistent delays in gaining access to rights-of-way to build infrastructure. For example, the trade group referred to Internet Service Provider (ISP) members that needed two years to receive permits to cross railroads, “causing massive delays in their projects.” 

INCOMPAS spoke out as National Telecommunications and Information Administration continues to move ahead with the allocation of $42.25 billion in broadband grants under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program.

In the filing, INCOMPAS advised the FCC to impose deadlines on rights of way owners to streamline the permitting process.

The comments also expressed concern over the lack of transparency in rights-of-way fees. According to INCOMPAS, railroad owners are not subject to conditions on how much they can charge for crossing their property.

INCOMPAS’ ISP members include GoNetspeed, Metronet, and Great Plains Communications.

The comments were written by INCOMPAS lawyers Angie Kronenberg, Christopher Shipley, and Lindsay Stern.

The comments also urged FCC policymakers to address price gouging. INCOMPAS said public utilities should disclose their fees, ensuring that they accurately reflect the costs associated with granting access to rights-of-way.

INCOMPAS warned that these current barriers make it difficult for providers to justify the cost of building necessary infrastructure, especially when using borrowed capital. The overall impact will undermine the goal of ubiquitous internet access.

The comments also raised concerns about state and local governments that want to tax online video providers, which do not occupy public rights of way. 

“These proposals have the potential to raise consumers’ prices, deter new online entrants, and harm the competition and innovation that is driving online demand and new broadband network builds,” INCOMPAS said.