FCC to Vote on Pole Attachments at December Meeting

Telecom and utility companies have been clashing on replacement costs.

FCC to Vote on Pole Attachments at December Meeting
Photo of utility poles from Flickr user Chic Bee.

WASHINGTON, November 21, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission announced on Tuesday that it will consider rules on pole attachments at its December meeting.

The commission first sought comment on the issue in March 2022. It asked stakeholders for input on how costs should be allocated when utility poles need to be replaced to accommodate new telecommunications equipment.

Utility and telecom companies have strong positions on the issue. They have submitted over 4,100 comments to the FCC so far and are continuing to lobby, with AT&T and the cable company trade group NCTA meeting with commission staff in recent weeks.

Telecommunications companies have argued to the FCC that utilities unfairly pass the entire cost of replacement on to them, even when poles are already unsafe and would need to be replaced regardless. Utilities, for their part, say they would not normally replace the poles being used by telecom companies, either because they are structurally sound or to phase out old lines, and don’t benefit from the arrangement.

The commission has authority over the pole attachment deals between utility companies and telecom carriers. That does not include publicly owned utilities or broadband providers that solely provide internet. State laws also preempt the FCC’s authority – 24 states have their own guidelines for such deals.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement that the proposed rules would “make the pole attachment process faster, more transparent, and more cost-effective.” The commission did not respond to a request for comment on the specifics of the rules.

Lawmakers and industry groups have been pushing the commission to issue rules since the comment period ended last year. In April, more than a dozen major telecom companies pushed the commission to issue rules ahead of projects funded by the Biden administration’s $42.5 billion broadband expansion program, citing potential hold ups from pole disputes.

Canadian regulators ruled on the issue in February, requiring pole owners to bear at least half the cost to replace a pole before attaching telecom equipment. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission found that pole owners do stand to benefit from newer poles.

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