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ACA Members Describe Pole Access Problems That Deter Network Deployment

Despite FCC and State Efforts Going Back Decades, Many Utilities Continue To Frustrate Pole Access

PITTSBURGH, June 16, 2017 -  The American Cable Association is urging the Federal Communications Commission to strengthen its pole attachment rules to prevent dominant pole owners from imposing unreasonable fees and creating excessive delays that hobble communications providers seeking to invest capital in the deployment of broadband networks.

"The declarations of ACA members -- who are investing in network upgrades and new deployments - provide abundant evidence that they continue to face hurdles in obtaining fair and reasonable access to poles and that the FCC needs to act in its Wireline Infrastructure rulemaking to remedy them.  By removing barriers to infrastructure investment and reforming rules that increase costs and slow network deployment as ACA details in its comments, the FCC will make the pole attachment process work better for attachers and utilities alike and foster the expansion of high-performance broadband service, including to rural and unserved areas," ACA President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

ACA set forth its views in comments (attached) filed June 15 in response to the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that called on stakeholders to advance proposals designed to accelerate wireline broadband deployment by removing barriers to infrastructure investment.

ACA's comments focused on poles owned or controlled by investor-owned utilities and incumbent telecommunications providers.

ACA responded with a manifest filled with documented instances where utilities subject to the Pole Attachment statute have imposed unwarranted and unreasonable terms and conditions and have failed to provide basic information about the location and availability of their poles.

The cumulative impact of pole owners' gamesmanship and misconduct is extensive, ACA said. The trade group stressed that a pole attachment regime that lacks transparency and efficient dispute-resolution not only harms providers deploying networks but the communities they serve or wish to serve.

ACA noted that although its members continue to invest in broadband - approximately $1 billion annually to upgrade and extend their facilities - they would invest significantly more if many entities that own or control poles, ducts, and conduits did not hinder and raise the cost of deployments by delaying approvals or levying unreasonable fees. 

FCC involvement with pole attachment regulations dates back some 40 years, but pole disputes with both new and familiar fact patterns continue to surface, underscoring ACA's recommendation that the time has come for a more transparent, rules-based regulatory regime for pole attachments.

Following are just some of ACA's recommendations:

  • The FCC should mandate a "Notify and Attach" regime for overlashing and an "Attach and Notify" regime for installing "drops" to customers;
  • The FCC should require utilities to develop and maintain a searchable electronic database providing relevant information about pole, duct, or conduit installed, replaced, or upgraded ... and make available that information to existing and potential attachers, subject to appropriate confidentiality and security protections;
  • The FCC should require utilities to make available to attachers a web-based ticket management system for ease of tracking applications and make-ready works;
  • The FCC should enhance transparency and restrict charging for needless work in the pole attachment application and evaluation process;
  • The FCC should impose a 90-day timeframe to process applications and complete make-ready for projects involving 20 or fewer attachments;
  • The FCC should allow applicants to undertake all necessary make-ready when a utility or existing attacher fails to timely complete make-ready; and
  • The FCC should not permit utilities to charge for make-ready where poles already need to be replaced or the new attacher is not the cause of a violation; and
  • The FCC should adopt its proposed 180-day shot clock for resolution of pole-related complaints filed with the FCC and impose significant penalties on utilities for pole attachment violations.

About the American Cable Association: Based in Pittsburgh, the American Cable Association is a trade organization representing nearly 750 smaller and medium-sized, independent cable companies who provide broadband services for nearly 7 million cable subscribers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America.  Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA's members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business.  For more information, visit http://www.americancable.org/

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