CAGW Comments to FCC on Declaratory Petition on Pole Attachments | Council For Citizens Against Government Waste

CAGW Comments to FCC on Declaratory Petition on Pole Attachments

Agency Comments

Before the Federal Communications Commission, Washington, D.C.

In the Matter of Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment (WC Docket No. 17-84)

Comments of Thomas A. Schatz, President

Citizens Against Government Waste

On Petition for Expedited Declaratory Ruling Request from NCTA

September 2, 2020

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to educating the American public about waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in government.  On behalf of the more than 1.2 million members and supporters of CAGW, I offer the following comments regarding the Petition for Expedited Declaratory Ruling by NCTA in the matter of Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment (WC Docket No. 17-84).

The July 16, 2020 petition from the NCTA seeks a declaratory ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on two distinct issues: 1) when disputes arise regarding pole attachment applications in an unserved area of the country, they should be prioritized by the FCC to accelerate the process for obtaining resolution and enable faster deployment in these regions, and 2) the FCC should make a determination that when a pole is nearing the end of its useful life and subject to replacement regardless of any new pole attachments, the cost to replace the pole is shared by both the new attacher and the pole owner.[1]

Deploying broadband to unserved areas of the country has long been a top priority for the FCC.  While funding mechanisms like the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund may provide some financial relief to deploying broadband in difficult to build regions of the country, reducing regulatory barriers, speeding approval times, and finding ways to reduce deployment costs are also important.  Improving broadband access to mostly rural communities and households will increase the ability to use communications services, and offer better opportunities for telemedicine, remote schooling, and precision agriculture.  Such connections have been critical during the pandemic and will remain so thereafter.

While deploying broadband to areas of the country that are unserved by providers offering a minimum service of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds has been a high priority for the current administration, the cost and time needed to attach to some utility poles has made it difficult to achieve that objective.

As noted in a February 2018 technical advisory issued the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), “The joint use of utility poles has been a long-term feature across the United States going back to the 1930s.  To avoid costly, unsightly, and potentially dangerous clutter, laws and regulations have long facilitated the joint use of poles for both electric and communications uses, either through joint ownership or through pole owners charging an attachment fee for other service providers to attach to their poles.”[2] 

The Pole Attachment Act of 1978 allowed the FCC to set “just and reasonable” pole attachment rates charged by Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) for pole attachments necessary for telephone and cable distribution.  The Telecommunications Act of 1996 further expanded this role by the FCC to include new telecommunications technologies, and mandated that cable and telecommunications companies have access to utility poles.  However, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 also allowed states to certify that they regulated pole attachments, rather than the FCC.  Twenty states and the District of Columbia have certified with the FCC that they regulate pole attachments, including rates charged.[3]

The technical advisory issued by NRECA demonstrates why cooperation between the attacher and pole owner are critical due to safety considerations in placing new technology on existing power lines.  However, given the often cumbersome application process for permitting imposed by several utility and state regulators, it is understandable that many of the attachments noted in the advisory were not “permitted” prior to installation if the permitting process is unreasonably delayed and harms deployment of broadband services to areas of the country that need even the most minimum broadband available.  CAGW strongly urges the FCC to work with pole owners, state regulators, and broadband providers to expedite the attachment application process so that rural broadband deployment is not unduly delayed due to bureaucratic red tape.

The NCTA petition also discusses the costs associated with pole replacements deemed necessary by a pole owner when contracting with a new attacher as another barrier to rapid deployment.  During new broadband deployments, an attacher files an application to attach to a pole, and the pole owner may determine based on the age or condition of the pole that it should be replaced prior to the new attachment.  According to the petition, when a pole has reached “near the end of its useful life,” the financial costs of replacing poles is often borne entirely by the new attacher, even though the pole owner itself derives the most financial benefit from the pole replacement. 

CAGW is concerned with the allegations raised by NCTA that pole owners are not only failing to pay a fair share of the cost of new pole installations, but are also shifting the entire cost of a pole replacement onto a new attacher, effectively increasing the cost of broadband deployment.  This has occurred despite the fact that the pole owner benefits from new utility pole infrastructure, particularly for poles that would have needed replacement by the pole owner regardless of whether a new attacher had applied for its use.

CAGW asks that the FCC approve the NCTA petition to have the specific cost of pole replacement shared between the new attacher and the pole owner when a pole is determined to be near the end of its useful life and would need to be replaced by the pole owner regardless of any new attachment.  Such a cost-sharing agreement would not inhibit the ability of the pole owner to continue to charge reasonable and just rates for pole attachments as set forth by both the Pole Attachment Act of 1978 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

[1] Petition for Declaratory Ruling, NCTA, The Internet and Television Association, Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment, WC Docket No. 17-84, Filed July 16, 2020, https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/107161552527661/071620%2017-84%20NCTA%20Petition_for_Declaratory_Ruling.pdf.

[2] National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, “How One Cooperative Leveraged Data to Advance its Pole Attachment Policies,” Technical Advisory, February 2018, https://www.cooperative.com/programs-services/bts/Documents/Tech-Advisory-NOVEC-Pole-Attachment-Case-Study-FINAL-2-22-18.pdf.

[3] Ibid.

Issues Topics: 

Sign Up For Email Updates


Optional Member Code