[politico] To most of us, power poles look like ugly sticks in the ground. But to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, they look like a broadband delivery device.
While power poles don’t command a lot of respect, they command a lot of money. Cable and phone companies pay the utilities a fee for the equipment they nail to the poles, and with millions of poles dotting the American landscape, that money adds up. Genachowski wants to lower the fees telecommunications companies pay, seeing that as one way to encourage broadband expansion.
The commission is expected to move in that direction Thursday, when it is likely to approve an order to effectively lower the price many telecommunications companies pay to attach wires and other devices to the utility poles.
“Genachowski has set top priorities for the agency: unleashing spectrum, reforming and modernizing the Universal Service Fund, accelerating broadband deployment and promoting competition,” said Zachary Katz, an adviser to the chairman. “This is a strong and balanced order that will significantly reduce barriers to both wired and wireless broadband deployment.”
In its National Broadband Plan, the commission estimates that pole attachments amount to 20 percent of the total cost of deploying fiber-optic cable. Generally, large telecom companies, such as AT&T and Verizon, pay about $20 per foot of pole real estate every year. Their smaller competitors pay about half that, and cable companies pay about $7 per foot for each pole every year.
There are about 134 million poles in the U.S., according to the FCC. However, the commission has jurisdiction over only about 50 million of those poles — many are regulated by states or are exempt because co-ops, municipalities or nonutility companies own them.
Compared with the cable rate, the traditional phone companies claim they are being overcharged by up to $350 million a year for their attachments to poles that are under the commission’s authority.
It’s unclear exactly what the commission plans to do Thursday, but one official said the effective rate is likely to be lowered for traditional phone companies, their direct competitors and cable companies.
While industry and commission sources expect the panel to lower the pole attachment rates for phone companies, that process could be different for the traditional phone companies than for their newer competitors and cable companies.
The commission doesn’t have to lower rates to reduce the cost of pole attachments. It is likely to set strict timelines and other requirements that will make it easier and cheaper for broadband providers to use the poles. If power companies don’t adhere to those requirements, telecom companies can appeal to the commission to get the rate lowered.
FCC aims to lower power-pole fees