I’ve long been fascinated by utility poles: They’re so ubiquitous we don’t notice them and yet they’re amazing: 40-foot-tall straight trees are grown by the millions (there are somewhere around 500,000 utility poles in New Hampshire alone, and the North American Wood Pole Association estimates the country has 130 million of the darn things) and get spaced out every 200 feet or so along virtually every road in the country. (You can read more details in a story I wrote in 2016.)

If somebody told you we had to create the system today you’d say forget it, that’s impossible!

Poles are valuable real estate for industries that need to string wires from customer to customer, which means there have historically been fights among telephone, electricity, cable TV and internet companies over who gets access to which parts of the pole and at what cost. (The poles are owned either by the phone company or the electric company – there’s no rhyme or reason as to which owns which, so far as I can tell. That’s why you shouldn’t call them “telephone poles” – although everybody does.)

So I was interested to see an opinion piece in the Monitor calling out the current system for slowing down the spread of broadband and recommending changes, including:

improved policies can require equitable cost-sharing between pole owners and broadband providers, expedite dispute resolution processes and regulate the timely review of pole permits. In addition to these efforts, policymakers could also continue to direct already committed public funds to “utility pole relief” grant programs designed to offset high overhead costs to broadband providers..

As if often the case, it’s the boring details as much as the exciting breakthroughs which make technological change possible.

The whole opinion piece is here.

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