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Hoping for a ruling in favor of competition and efficiency

On September 28, 2015 the Maine Public Utilities Commission opened an investigation into a request for new rulemaking related to utility pole attachments in the state.   The request, which originated from the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA), was largely in response to complaints about the costs and delays associated with attaching new fiber optic cable to poles.  Long story short, Maine regulates pole attachment at a state level, but there are long-standing federal guidelines that would shorten the timeframe for new cables to be installed and reduce the construction cost as well.   

Speaking at a recent Federal Communications Bar Association conference in Boston, Jeff McCarthy from MFC explained the challenge and the impact of having an expensive, slow process for attaching new fiber to poles.  “This is a practical problem we should be able to fix.  As it stands today the costs and delays associated with attaching cable to poles are barriers to entry for new competitors and existing broadband providers alike.  MFC has seen the cost of construction nearly double from $18K per mile to $35K per mile since we started construction of the ‘three ring binder’ project in 2010.”  

As of 2015, 30 states were using the federal regulation model, a model which has evolved over time to recognize and regulate broadband service providers, not just electric, telecom and cable TV providers.   Maine is one of the 20 states that regulate pole attachments themselves, in our case based on PUC Chapter 880, a Rule established in 1985 and last amended in 1993.     

State regulation of pole attachments can differ significantly from the federal model, and some states such as Connecticut see this as an opportunity to remove barriers to broadband expansion and competition.   Here’s a quote from broadband subject matter expert Susan Crawford regarding Connecticut’s decision to assign a single pole administrator for the state and permit municipalities to attach fiber:

"Rather than letting pole owners hold up every requestor by creating delays and making demands for special payments (seriously: pole-attachment scuffles are the long-running soap operas of telecom), Connecticut requires pole owners to obey a Single Pole Administrator, adhere to uniform pricing agreements, and act to make way for new wires in a set time. Dramatic stuff. And Connecticut already had passed a statute giving municipalities the right to use a part of a pole, or 'gain,' for any purpose. These two elements made Connecticut an extremely attractive place to string a network."

With scores of local Maine communities clamoring for improved broadband and the potential economic benefits that could result, will Maine regulators and lawmakers put in the effort to reform the rules for pole attachment this session? 

Overview of FCC law:   https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/224

Reclassification of CATV as BIAS:   http://www.dwt.com/Impact-of-Reclassification-on-Pole-Attachments-03-16-2015/