John Malia 

Broadband connectivity and all of the services that come with it have become a fabric of our society, but for those without access to high-speed internet, it’s been unimaginably difficult to keep up.

This became especially true during the pandemic.  Thanks to the work of leaders like Senator Tester, who worked on the bipartisan infrastructure proposal, we are on the precipice of true universal connectivity.

By allocating $65 billion to expand connectivity, lawmakers have equipped us with a historic opportunity to level the playing field and get everyone online. However, in order to achieve true universal connectivity, federal lawmakers will need to ensure that this new funding is used to its fullest potential by expediting access to utility poles.

Utility poles are what allow us to stay connected and serve as the backbone of our country’s communications infrastructure, so it goes without saying that they will play a pivotal role in expanding broadband access. To bring connectivity to the areas that lack it, internet providers will need access to poles to attach the necessary equipment, but far too often the overly-complex permitting process stands in the way.

Because internet providers do not usually own utility poles, they must first be granted access by the pole owners, which are typically co-ops, local utilities or electric companies.

Unfortunately, lengthy disputes can arise during this process, as providers and pole owners struggle to come to an agreement on pole replacement and maintenance costs. While these disputes go on with no end in sight, the unserved residents of Montana continue to go without the connectivity they need to access things like online learning and telehealth.

We can’t let such an avoidable hindrance get in the way of connecting all Americans, especially when we are so close to closing the divide thanks to the current federal funding opportunities. We need a clearer system for resolving disagreements over cost-sharing when it comes to poles so that broadband can be expanded as quickly as possible. Our federal leaders can make sure we speed access to poles and that there’s a transparent timeline for resolving disagreements.

When it comes to expanding internet access, there is not a second to spare. Continued lack of access due to needless delays can have a clear negative impact on a student’s educational attainment or a civilian’s employment opportunities.

We need leaders in Washington like Senator Tester to make sure we create the correct conditions that allow this law to do what it was meant to do and achieve universal access.