SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Several states have either implemented new rules surrounding pole attachments or are currently conducting proceedings to address certain issues attachers and pole owners encounter as they enter pole attachment agreements in an effort to help expedite broadband deployment. “It’s really gratifying to see that a lot of states are really paying attention to our concerns,” said Benjamin Aron, director-state regulatory affairs at CTIA, during a late Monday panel at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners 2018 Summer Policy Summit.
States including Maine, California, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, have recently revised their pole attachment rules to address issues such as nondiscriminatory access to utility poles, make-ready work, and overlashing.
“As an industry we are looking at new technologies and a new way of getting our broadband out to customers,” Mr. Aron said. “These technologies more and more involve infrastructure, including poles.”
Mr. Aron said there were two keys to pole attachments in the wireless industry: rates and access. “Rates have to be compensatory. The access piece is more complicated,” he said. “It is highly specific to the electric utility you are dealing with.”
“We’re looking for consistency and efficient processes that work, and a regulator that will hear disputes and resolve disputes in a timely manner,” he said, noting that Maine had a very timely process to hearing disputes and getting them resolved quickly, called the “rapid response process.”
David Don, VP-regulatory policy at Comcast Corp. and a member of the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), said much of the BDAC’s efforts were focused on deploying facilities in public rights of way.
“One of the key issues we’ve discussed is how do you balance the competing interests,” he said. “How do you protect the equipment and the right of way? … As an incumbent attacher, we wanted to make sure there was a balancing of utility owners and existing attachers. Yes, we do have to streamline and come up with new processes that are quicker. But we also need to balance all of the competing interests here.”
Overall, he said that “a lot of good ideas came out of this process, and hopefully we can all put these into play and help connect all of our citizens. I think the BDAC is a step in the right direction getting these [ideas] out there and on the table.”
Tom Freeberg, director-regulatory compliance at CenturyLink, Inc., said that when it comes to pole attachments, “there’s rarely a win-win. It’s more often a win on one side and a loss on another.”
CenturyLink, he said, favors maximum flexibility to negotiate confidential agreements between parties as much as possible. “We typically favor alignment with the federal rules,” he added.
So far, he said, CenturyLink supports the FCC’s draft third report and order and declaratory ruling on pole attachments that’s on the agency’s Aug. 2 meeting agenda, and specifically the proposal’s approach to overlashing and the order’s discussion on “reasonable and nondiscriminatory rates and terms for all attachers.”
“We need to have policies that promote overlashing,” he said. “It’s an efficient way to promote new deployment.”
Mr. Don also noted that there should be more agreement when it comes to pole attachment policies. “We are all talking about the same issues that affect communications policy. There is true convergence in intermodal competition,” he said. “We’re all under vastly different regulatory regimes, even though we are all essentially selling the same thing.” The cable industry pays $3 billion a year in franchise fees, he noted.
He added, “We need to talk about how to streamline these rules in a nondiscriminatory way. We need to be talking about a converged regulatory model. Pole attachments is the perfect example of where this can really happen.” —Carrie DeLeon, firstname.lastname@example.org