Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Commentary: FCC Convenes Pole Attachment Workshop, Praise the Lord 09/28/2010 San Francisco - For those of us that actually build networks, networks that need to be permitted to use right-of-way, attached to utility poles, or installed in conduit, the Federal Communications Commission actually, finally, really, no kidding did something for us.

This morning the Commission is holding a workshop on the issue of pole attachments, those noisome procedural processes that slow the most agile and well funded network developers to a crawl as we attempt to invest in the nation's infrastructure.

Incumbent utility pole owners meet to plan regulatory strategy in response
to reforms seen in FCC Pole Attachment Order. (Photo Copyright: HBO)
For one brief shining moment today the greatest telecoms regulatory body on the planet will actually, finally talk about reforming the archaic, incumbent protection schema existing in every state in the Union called pole attachment policies.The Commission recently completed the public reply comment period for its pole attachment Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, issued in May. Today's workshop brings together Commission staff and stakeholders to talk about implementation, and to no doubt listen to the inevitable grousing from the incumbent pole owners. 

If you don't get the importance of this stuff you can't really say you understand the U.S. telecom sector.  Without full throated pole attachment reform advocates in Washington, and in front of every PUC in the nation a ubiquitous wired and wireless broadband future for American doesn't get done. Oh, and yes, the regulators actually will need to actually, finally, really implement reform, especially in those states where the regulators are prone to say things like "How high?" when the incumbents say "Jump."

Think this stuff doesn't matter, that we all just need to fight hammer and tong about net neutrality sometime into the next century in order to get a real digital infrastructure like that? Think about this:  If the old pre-Divestiture Bell operating companies had their way, cable television companies would still be stringing cable up in the hills of Pennsylvania, and only in the hills of Pennsylvania. The Kafkaesque pole attachment policies of the telcos were always their first line of defense in trying to do just that - stifle the greatest competitor the ossified incumbents ever had, the cable industry.

We continue to think that anachronistic pole and conduit attachment procedures and regulations in many states will be the next significant gating factor in preventing lagging broadband stimulus monies from flowing into the construction spending pipelines.  We mentioned this over a year ago, and now see some of it, unfortunately coming to fruition.  We applaud the handful of state broadband programs, with Massachusetts in the lead, that have flagged this specific issue for the Commission. We stand up and cheer for the leadership shown by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA-14) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) as they have filed legislation requiring federal highway projects to make provisions for pre-installed conduit banks.   

Going forward, we might even wink and give a pass to some of our favorite governors that are doing deals with some of the worst offenders in the nation to get their BTOP middle mile projects moving, without engaging in actual reform through the regulators they appoint.  Maybe.

For now, those of us that really, no kidding put fiber in the ground and up in the air can do a little rejoicing that there is a FCC that gets this stuff. In the weeks ahead we will roll out analysis, commentary, and tracking of action on attachment reform in the states -- that is the real secret sauce in all this.  Will a critical mass of states follow the Commission's lead and finally demand incumbent pole and conduit owners join the 21st century?   We'll have attorneys experienced in the tough work of supporting network builds in some of the most challenging jurisdictions in the nation lay out the action for us.  

We promise that our legal analysts and regulatory strategists will have high levels of recognized professional expertise that goes beyond our adolescent comparison of incumbent pole owners to members of New Jersey organized crime families -- not to insult members of New Jersey organized crime families.
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