As part of WV broadband bill is under fire, FCC mulling rules changes
AP file photo
A Verizon lineman connects fiber optic cable that will serve a home in North Bellmore, N.Y., in 2006. Two lawsuits calling to nix a section of House Bill 3093, known as the broadband bill, argue it conflicts with law established by the Federal Communications Commission. But FCC law may change in the near future, as the agency announced in April it is seeking input on how it can accelerate the roll-out of high-speed broadband access.
Two lawsuits1 calling to nix a section of House Bill 30932, known as the broadband bill, argue it conflicts with law established by the Federal Communications Commission. But FCC law may change in the near future, as the agency announced in April it is seeking input on how it can accelerate the rollout of high-speed broadband access. On April 20, the FCC announced in a news release that it is requesting public comment on “a series of steps to remove regulatory barriers to wireline broadband infrastructure deployment.” Some of these barriers include current pole attachment laws, according to the FCC, which is what Frontier and the state Cable Telecommunications Association said the state broadband bill conflicts with in separate lawsuits filed in July.
The changes the FCC said it is looking for input on regarding pole attachments, which help build broadband networks, include:
n Speeding up parts of the pole attachment process such as application review, pole surveying, cost estimates and make-ready work preparing a pole for a new attachment.
n Allowing new attachers to use utility-approved contractors for make-ready work “in situations where an existing attacher fails to do so.”
n Allowing existing attachers to fix any defective make-ready work from the new attacher or to require the new attacher to fix those problems. The FCC also asked for ways it could “eliminate or significantly reduce” the amount of make-ready work needed for new attachers.
“For example, what can the Commission do to encourage utilities to proactively make room for future attachers by consolidating existing attachments, reserving space on new poles for new attachers, and allowing the use of extension arms to increase pole capacity?” the FCC said in its request for comment. Supporters of the pole attachments section of West Virginia’s broadband bill, Article 4, say it falls in line with what the FCC is looking for. According to the bill, if the attachment application and contractor is approved by the pole owner and the work is not expected to cause a power outage, the new attacher “may relocate or alter the attachments or facilities of any Pre-Existing Third Party User as may be necessary.”
Rob Hinton, chairman of the state Broadband Enhancement Council, submitted the text of Article 4 to the FCC, saying in a letter that “I believe this section is responsive to your request for comment.” Hinton added that he and the rest of the council supported the pole access program.
“This new statute should improve broadband capacity in West Virginia by simplifying accessibility issues third parties routinely encounter in trying to build out their networks across existing wireline infrastructure,” Hinton’s letter reads.
The state Cable Telecommunications Association and Frontier argue West Virginia’s new law could lead to increased service interruptions or outages for customers. The Frontier lawsuit alleges the section of the bill “constitutes an unlawful taking of Frontier’s property” because it would allow a new attacher to freely rearrange equipment without the consent of other pole users. In its own response to the FCC’s request for comment, Frontier said “even parties most vocally supporting new pole attachment rules do not go to the extreme measures of the West Virginia statute,” arguing that more advanced notice is needed for any changes by new attachers and that the 14 days for post-construction attachment review should be extended. Frontier added that West Virginia’s pole-attachment policy “deprives existing attachers of an opportunity to adjust their own equipment” and “risks the continuity and quality of service to its customers.”
Bridgeport-based internet service provider CityNet supports the new state law because companies can avoid “delay tactics” in the pole attachment process and more easily expand broadband access, Chris Morris, the company’s senior vice president of business development and external affairs, said in an emailed response to questions.
“The fact that the power companies, who own the majority of the poles in the State, did not oppose this legislation speaks volumes about Frontier and the state Cable Telecommunications Association’s motives in opposing this policy,” he said.
Frontier spokesman Andy Malinoski said in a statement that “Frontier supports efforts to expand and improve broadband access in West Virginia” and is “simply seeking a ruling that the federal requirements prevail” in its lawsuit. The defendants named in the suit, Gov. Jim Justice and the three commissioners of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates public utilities, have yet to respond. Frontier, FirstEnergy and American Electric Power own most of West Virginia’s utility poles.
FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Meyers said in a statement that the company supports broadband expansion. However, he added that the company is concerned if it has enough time to notify companies that others want to move or arrange their facilities. FirstEnergy would prefer the 60-day notification period in the broadband bill “to be a little longer,” Meyers said.
“Where we own the poles, it is our responsibility to notify the companies with facilities attached to our poles that another company intends to make changes — and the more time to do that, the better,” he said. The FCC’s request for comment isn’t the first time the agency has looked into how to speed up the pole-attachments process.
The agency’s National Broadband Plan, released in 2010, says the rearranging or installing of pole attachments “can be a significant source of cost and delay in building broadband networks,” and uses broadband provider FiberNet’s efforts to deploy fiber in West Virginia as an example (FiberNet became part of Lumos Networks in 2011). FiberNet states “the most significant obstacle to the deployment of fiber transport is FiberNet’s inability to obtain access to pole attachments in a timely manner,” according to the infrastructure chapter of the plan. Make-ready charges for FiberNet’s fiber construction in the state “averaged $4,200 per mile and took 182 days to complete, but the company estimates that these costs should instead have averaged $1,000 per mile,” according to the plan.
Lumos Networks spokesman James Nester said the company continues to support attempts to streamline pole attachment work.
Reach Max Garland at email@example.com, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.