PITTSBURGH, September 3, 2020 – In response to an NCTA petition, ACA Connects filed comments with the FCC yesterday calling on the agency to adopt rules to address the unjust and unreasonable charges and practices its members often face when they seek to attach to investor-owned utility poles that need to be replaced.
“ACA Connects agrees with NCTA that there is more than sufficient evidence to demonstrate that unreasonable pole replacement charges and practices are a barrier to cable and broadband deployment, including in unserved areas where the available infrastructure has often outlived its useful life,” ACA Connects President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said. “The FCC needs to step in and ensure that pole replacement costs are allocated fairly and that pole owners do not shift to new attachers the costs of maintaining and upgrading their own capital assets.”
In its comments, ACA Connects cited numerous examples of unjust pole replacement charges, including one member that was stuck with the bill to replace a 75-year-old, failing pole.
“The lack of clear ‘guardrails’ regarding make-ready fees, including for pole replacements, has created a regulatory gap that utilities exploit to their financial benefit,” Polka said. “NCTA’s petition underscores the extent and severity of this problem and the need for the FCC to step up and provide some guardrails.”
ACA Connects noted that the FCC sought comment in 2017 on the adoption of rules to limit make-ready charges, and in doing so has laid the foundation to move directly to final rules based on the record developed in response.
“By placing fair and reasonable limits on the pole replacement charges that providers are required to pay when building out their networks, the FCC will be taking another important step to promote broadband investment and close the digital divide,” Polka said.
ACA Connects’ comments called upon the FCC to adopt rules that codify new policies, or in some cases affirm existing ones. As an initial matter, ACA Connects sought clarity that a pole owner cannot charge a new attacher for a pole replacement that is unnecessary to accommodate the attachment. Pole owners should also be prohibited from charging for replacement of “red-tagged” poles or other poles that do not meet applicable safety and reliability standards, the trade association commented.
In addition, ACA Connects agreed with NCTA that new attachers should pay only for the portion of pole replacement fees that they cause, and that pole owners—as parties that benefit directly and significantly from upgrades of their own infrastructure—should pay their fair share. ACA Connects also asked the FCC to enforce make-ready timelines in the context of pole replacements, and to ensure that attaching parties are not required to pay to correct preexisting violations of other attachers.
To ensure that the FCC’s rules on pole replacement charges are given real-world effect, ACA Connects further recommended that the FCC require pole owners to disclose relevant information to incoming attachers about the state of their poles.
ACA Connects also called on the FCC to clarify that pole owners may not “double recover” in the form of pole rental fees any capital costs an attacher is required to bear in replacing a pole.
Finally, ACA Connects joined NCTA in recommending that the FCC expedite consideration of pole attachment complaints, and suggested that the FCC apply this policy whether or not a complaint arises in an unserved area.
About ACA Connects: America’s Communications Association – Based in Pittsburgh, ACA Connects is a trade organization representing more than 700 smaller and medium-sized, independent companies that provide broadband, phone and video services to nearly 8 million customers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America. Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA Connects’ members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their businesses. For more information, visit: http://www.ACAConnects.org