Jan 19, 201501:13 PMLegal Login
with Mindi Giftos
Addressing potential roadblocks to broadband expansion
(page 1 of 2)
When thinking about how to encourage broadband expansion — both in terms of geographic availability and level of quality — we often focus on funding. Particularly in rural areas, the cost of providing new broadband service or improving existing service can be cost-prohibitive because of the large distances between customers and the scarcity of customers who could be accessed by a proposed build-out.
To be sure, funding is critical. Under a Broadband Expansion Grant Program established in 2013, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) provides grant funding to reimburse providers for the construction of broadband facilities.
However, funding alone will not address the issues of broadband access and quality. At times, regulatory roadblocks can inhibit if not prohibit broadband expansion even where sufficient funding is available for the initial construction and installation of the facilities. Two recent cases before the PSC illustrate this issue. Together, these cases are shaping the legal landscape for overcoming regulatory roadblocks to broadband expansion in the state.
Milwaukee streetcar project
Initially proposed in 2011, the project would include the construction of a $65 million, 2.1-mile fixed-rail streetcar system in downtown Milwaukee, funded through approximately $55 million in federal grant funds and $10 million in city tax-increment financing. Since the initial proposal, the city has proposed an expansion that could expand the route and incorporate it within a proposed downtown development.
The issue for broadband providers is that the installation of a fixed-rail streetcar system requires excavating below the surface of city streets and moving utility facilities — including electric, gas, steam, and telecommunications facilities — that in many cases have been located below the streets for several years, if not several decades. The cost to relocate those facilities under the city’s original proposal was estimated to be upwards of $60 million. In other words, the cost to relocate utility facilities (including broadband facilities) could have been as much as the cost to construct the project itself. The cost of those relocations would have been covered entirely by utility providers.