FCC Moves Forward on Pole Attachment Issues | Citizens Against Government Waste

FCC Moves Forward on Pole Attachment Issues

The WasteWatcher

Broadband funding has been significantly increased over the past two years.  According to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr, as much as $800 billion could be used for broadband deployment, far more than enough to reach every unserved and underserved household in the country that would like to be connected to the internet.  But there are regulations and restrictions that will make it more difficult for this money to spent efficiently and effectively, like local rules on pole attachments, that need to be resolved. 

A positive development on this issue occurred with the announcement of items being discussed at the March 16, 2022, FCC monthly meeting.  Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel included in the tentative agenda a second further notice of proposed rulemaking on Accelerating Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment (WC Docket No. 17-84).

On September 20, 2020, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) noted in comments filed with the FCC that, “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.”  However, allegations were raised in the proceeding that pole owners were not only failing to pay a fair share of the cost of new pole installations but also shifting the entire cost of a pole replacement onto a new attacher, thereby increasing the cost of broadband deployment. 

In January 2021, the FCC found that it was “unreasonable and inconsistent with section 224” for utilities to “impose the entire cost of a pole replacement on a requesting attacher when the attacher is not the sole cause of a pole replacement.”  The latest proposed rulemaking being considered at the March meeting would further clarify the rules surrounding pole replacement costs by determining under what criteria an attacher would be required to bear a proportional share of pole replacement costs, and when this would be the responsibility of the utility or pole owner.  The proposed rulemaking also seeks measures that the FCC could adopt to expedite resolution of pole replacement disputes, and the scope of refunds when it is determined that a pole attachment rate, term, or condition is unjust and unreasonable.

Resolving the pole replacement cost issue would be a positive step toward the goal of expanding broadband infrastructure deployment to unserved and underserved households, particularly in rural areas of the country.  CAGW will continue to closely follow the FCC proceeding and how it impacts the decision-making process on pole attachments.

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