Small Cablers Worry About Pole Rates

WASHINGTON — The American Cable Association has another reason not to like Title II: the price of the poles.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission last week, ACA president Matt Polka said that if the FCC reclassifies broadband access under Title II regulations, which the trade group opposes, that should not translate into higher pole-attachment rates, especially for the small and midsized independent operators ACA represents.

Otherwise, ISPs would start having to pay the higher telecom rate, which would raise consumers’ broadband rates and discourage investment, Polka noted. Those are two things the FCC does not want to do as it promotes universal adoption of broadband.

Polka aligned himself with the National Cable & Telecommunications Association effort to resolve the issue by lowering telecom companies’ pole attachment rate to the same as the cable rate. The FCC voted in 2011 to harmonize the rates, but the opportunity remained for pole owners to charge higher rates under some circumstances; the NCTA, along with Comptel and others, sought to resolve that in a petition for reconsideration filed back in 2011.

“This action would, among other things, continue to compensate pole owners fairly, eliminate competitively significant distortions created by the FCC’s bifurcated pole-attachment regulatory structure and encourage providers to put their risk capital to work for a better broadband experience for consumers, particularly those located in rural areas,” Polka said.

At a Senate hearing on network-neutrality legislation last Wednesday (Jan. 21), Tom Simmons, senior vice president of public policy for Midcontinent Communications, said an increased pole attachment rate would be a “great burden” on smaller operators, particularly in rural areas where they would need a lot of attachments. It is hard to go underground through the granite of the Black Hills of South Dakota, for example, he said. He conceded operators could, at least for a while, blame increased costs to consumers on government, but that might ultimately cost them in customer goodwill.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.