FCC Takes on Pole Attachments, Copper Retirement and More

Carl Weinschenk

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deals with many mundane issues in addition to the high-profile items that make headlines. Those under-the-radar topics, however, can have significant impact on telecommunications companies and the people they serve.

Late last month, the FCC released drafts of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, a Notice of Inquire and a Request for Comments (NPRM, NOI and RFC) that touch on three such items. The NPRM is designed to ease pole attachment rules, provide flexibility and expedite retirement of copper, and in other ways modernize networks and make it easier to retire services. The NOI deals with the FCC's ability to preempt state and local laws that inhibit broadband deployment. The RFC asks for comments on changing the FCC's legal interpretation of when carriers must seek permission to alter or discontinue a service.

The context is that the philosophical approach of the new administration is to reduce complexity and move decision making as much as possible into the business sector. The previous Democratic administration, the thinking goes, was overly controlling. The NPRM, NOI and RFC can be seen as the beginning of an attempt to turn this philosophy into rules and regulations.

The pole attachment issue is perhaps the hottest. Currently, competitive providers can have a tremendously difficult time winning the right to attach cables to poles. Indeed, this issue is a real and substantial barrier to carriers seeking to set up shop versus an incumbent. The streamlined approach, known as “one-touch make-ready,” according to Fierce Telecom, is aimed at limiting these issues:


Specifically, the FCC proposed to reduce charges paid by attachers to utilities for work done to make a pole ready for new attachments while ensuring that pole attachers are not charged multiple times for certain capital costs. The FCC proposed adopting a formula for computing the maximum pole attachment rate for incumbent local exchange carriers.

The FCC last week officially adopted the NRPM, NOI and RFC. (Changes between the draft and final NPRM are noted by JD Supra.) The agency has also launched the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), which met for the first time on April 21. Light Reading said that an idea floated both in meetings and less formal discussions is to move reviews of pole attachments plans from individual sites to “a broader network review strategy that would speed up the permissions process.”

In this scenario, the tradeoff would be that competitive providers get faster approval, but divulge their overall plans. This, Mari Silbey writes, is something that they are loath to do because incumbents may learn their intentions and react proactively.

A lot of work remains. In a piece published between release of the draft and final standards, Lexology pointed to cost and potential safety and management concerns related to the electrical lines on the poles that are raised by the FCC’s desire to accelerate the make-ready process.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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