Study: Market Control Of Utility Poles Holds Back Broadband Expansion In NC

Sep 1, 2021

A study from the North Carolina Cable Telecommunications Association finds that utility poles -- in particular, who owns them -- are holding up access to high speed internet across the state. 

Utility poles might be one of the most mundane sights on the side of the road.

But depending on what mile stretch of a road you live on, those tall wooden posts could determine how fast or slow the internet connection is inside of your home or business. 

"What we describe in this new study as ‘the pole problem’ is really a consumer and household and business problem in North Carolina," Western Carolina University economics professor Dr. Edward Lopez, who co-authored the study, said.

Lopez says a lack of regulation is holding back the state’s economic development and public health -- especially as more jobs and healthcare services go online. 

“You can either have a utility pole system where the pole owners are cooperative or one where they’re disruptive and they hold up the process," Lopez said. "The situation is the later, where the companies are holding up the process and it’s become a problem for NC households and businesses from getting served.”

The report says pole owners exert market power in ways that stall broadband expansion in lower-income and rural areas. Lopez says it’s particularly dire in Western North Carolina, where it costs more to run cable, due to the rugged topography. 

The analysis warns if changes aren’t made, it could cost the state $3.5 billion in consumer value due to the resulting delays in broadband deployment.