Broadband laws need to be updated for rural areas | Daily News Byte

Broadband laws need to be updated for rural areas

 | Daily News Byte

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In Colorado, 6% (approximately 350,000 residents) of the state do not have access to broadband, according to BroadbandNov. In 2019, 5.5% of Pueblo County residents had no internet access. Thanks to the hard work of our national leaders, including Senator John Hickenlooper on a bipartisan infrastructure package (BIP), high-speed Internet for every home and business in this country is becoming a reality, leaving us on the brink of true universal connectivity in America and Colorado alike.

A bipartisan infrastructure package allocates $65 billion across the country to connect remaining homes that lack access to high-speed Internet. However, until federal leaders can take action to accelerate access to the poles, 100% connectivity will remain out of reach.

For unserved and underserved regions like Pueblo, the fastest way to get the 5.5% of residents who don’t have internet access online is for internet providers to attach their technology to existing poles. The challenge lies in the fact that most broadband access providers do not own their own towers, but rather power companies, cooperatives, utility companies and other entities.

Because of this, providers must obtain permission to access these poles and pay fees to secure their technology – which is fine on paper; however, the problem lies in the fact that there is no functional system that regulates access to the poles.

For decades, poles have been crucial to America’s communications infrastructure, becoming more true with our increasing reliance on the Internet. These days, high-speed Internet is what powers our phones, allows children to learn, allows rural communities to use services like telehealth to avoid hours of driving one way to doctor’s offices, and more.

However, as mentioned above, the permitting process for poles can be complicated. Not all pole owners share the same sense of responsibility and urgency to bring high-speed Internet to, say, the 5.5% of Puebloans without it. Despite ISPs showing that they are willing to pay the costs that come with a pole connection, in many cases disputes over the costs arise and often take many months before they are heard or resolved.

This issue is particularly prevalent in large, rural communities like the one in Pueblo. Because at the end of the day, underserved communities suffer from broken processes surrounding pole access regulations — or the lack thereof. Pueblo’s K-12 students are the ones who have to sit in school parking lots to do homework because they don’t have high-speed internet to do it at home. Farmers and farm workers who live outside of broadband territory are the ones who have to leave their farm duties to drive hours one way to get proper medical care.

The bipartisan infrastructure package promises to finally give every home and business access to high-speed Internet. We need leaders in Washington like Senator Hickenlooper to make sure we create the right conditions that allow this bill to do what it was supposed to do, and get ALL of Pueblo, Colorado and America connected to broadband, and later possibility.

Vicente Martinez Ortega is the District 4 City Councilman in Pueblo, CO. He dedicated his professional and personal career to organizing and working with the Pueblo community and grew up as a member of the Chicano movement.

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