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Utilities Seek Pole-Rate Parity

A quartet of electric utilities have asked the Federal
Communications Commission for a declaratory ruling that cable operators who
provide voice-over-Internet protocol service should pay for attaching to
utility poles at the telecom rate rather than the lesser cable rate.

The companies said the FCC should rule that the
telecommunications rate charged to traditional phone-service providers for
attachments should apply to cable systems providing interconnected VoIP service
as well.

"Electricity consumers, many of whom do not subscribe to
VoIP services, must not be forced to subsidize cable giants like Comcast and
Time Warner Cable," they argued.

Filing the petition were American Electric Power Service,
Duke Energy, The Southern Co., and Xcel Energy.

They argued the FCC should make that "clarification" before
it takes up any related issues in its broadband notice of inquiry or proposed
rulemakings on Internet-protocol services and pole attachments.

The cable industry has argued that utility companies are
well-compensated by cable's current payment formula, which has been upheld by
the FCC, the Supreme Court (FCC v.
Florida Power
), and that the FCC has correctly applied the formula to
attachments for cable-modem service.

In fact, the cable industry has argued for lowering the rate
for everyone to that paid by cable, with the National Cable &
Telecommunications Association saying that "adopting a broadband attachment
rate for all similarly situated broadband providers that is based on the cable
rate formula is the surest way to promote continued deployment and investment
in rural areas."

By contrast, said the NCTA: "[R]aising attachment rates for
cable operators would raise prices and discourage broadband deployment and adoption,
particularly in rural areas."