Requiring cable providers to pay higher pole attachment fees simply because they have begun offering digital phone service over their lines would drive up the cost of advanced cable services for consumers and slow the pace of broadband deployment across rural areas where costs already run higher than average for small, independent cable operators, the American Cable Association said in a recent filing with the Federal Communications Commission.
"Hiking pole attachment rates at the request of a few power companies will only make it that much harder for ACA members to deliver affordable broadband access to unserved and underserved areas where it is needed the most," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said. "Instead of raising poles fees, the FCC should do everything within its power to reduce smaller operators' burdens whether related to regulation or otherwise and thereby advance broadband deployment in rural communities where demand for this critical technology is high."
Pole attachment fees can have a profound effect on broadband deployment in rural areas, but it is an issue that garners little attention from major media outlets in their coverage of broadband investment and competition in the U.S., especially in areas considered either unserved or underserved.
Generally, ACA members pay pole attachment fees at regulated rates set by the FCC or the states. Any increase in rates disproportionately affects small cable operators because of their heavy reliance on poles to deliver voice, video and broadband services to low-density communities.
For small cable operators, higher poles fees would translate into less capital to invest in broadband and likely into higher prices for consumers, thus frustrating the FCC's statutory requirement to encourage the rollout of broadband in a reasonable and timely fashion and the agency's important interest in promoting broadband adoption by consumers.
A petition for declaratory ruling to increase pole fees charged to cable operators that offer Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service was filed by American Electric Power Service Corp., Duke Energy Corp., Southern Company, and Xcel Energy Services, Inc.
In opposition to the petition, ACA told the FCC that the rates small cable operators already fully compensate pole owners and that there is no legal basis to charge cable operators more money simply because they have decided to upgrade their systems to offer their customers feature-rich VoIP service as a competitive alternative to the incumbent telephone company.
ACA's Polka added that because power companies are fully and fairly compensated, the allegation that utility ratepayers are somehow subsidizing cable companies "is a red herring and should be rejected."