On April 7, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously adopted an Order reforming the FCC’s pole attachment rules to limit rates and improve access to investor-owned utility poles in the 30 states where it regulates pole attachment rates, terms and conditions. The Order:
• Lowers the telecommunications pole rate formula to approximate the cable pole attachment rate in most cases;
• Creates timelines to govern virtually every step of the pole attachment make-ready process for wireline and wireless attachments, with the right to use contractors if timelines are not met;
• Provides wireless carriers with improved access to poles, including to pole-tops;
• Adopts new guidelines that could increase potential penalties for unauthorized attachments;
• Maintains the “sign and sue” rule and modifies FCC enforcement processes; and
• Allows incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) to petition the FCC for lower regulated attachment rates on a case-by-case basis.
Recent attention to pole attachments began, oddly enough, with a 2007 effort by former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to increase the rate that cable operators pay for pole attachments when used for broadband and an effort by electric utilities to apply the higher telecommunications rate for VoIP attachments. (For complete discussion see Davis Wright Tremaine's Nov. 21, 2007, and Aug. 18, 2009 advisories.) The National Broadband Plan reversed direction, recognizing that poles were a critical bottleneck to broadband deployment, and recommending setting rates “as low and close to uniform as possible” and streamlining the pole attachment process. The FCC’s May 2010 FNPRM proposed those changes (See May 21, 2010 advisory).
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