ACA: Higher Pole Fees = Less Broadband

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The American Cable Association warned that untethered pole attachment rates could drive the cost of broadband beyond the reach of rural customers.
In comments filed Aug. 16 with the Federal Communications Commission, the ACA, which represents about 900 mostly rural cable operators with a combined 7.6 million subscribers, applauded the FCCs' efforts to promote broadband deployment through revised pole attachment regulations. But the organization said that new proposed pole attachment formulas could increase fees five-fold for some operators, which in turn would cause consumer broadband rates to rise.
"To maintain leadership in deploying broadband in rural America, ACA members need to access poles at low and stable prices in order for the price of high-speed Internet access to remain affordable for all consumers," ACA CEO Matt Polka said in a statement. "An increase in pole fees will have a financially punishing and disproportionate impact on rural broadband providers, which rely on poles far more than urban providers and have fewer subscribers to absorb the impact of rising fees."
ACA said in its comments that pole attachment fees heavily influence broadband deployment schedules in rural markets. By allowing those fees to rise, the ACA claims the economic case for driving broadband facilities deeper into rural areas is harmed. One of the main initiatives of the Obama Administration has been to make broadband service available to all Americans.
Under a 1978 federal law, cable operators have a right to attach their wires to utility poles at regulated rates that fully compensate pole owners. Recently, pole owners have pushed for cable operators to pay a higher rate - previously applied to telecom companies - if they provide non-cable services. ACA claims that applying that higher rate would boost fees paid by some of its members as high as 400%.
"While ACA supports the FCC's effort to ensure that pole attachment rates are as low and close to uniform as possible, ACA strongly opposes any increase in the current cable rate. ACA urges the FCC to retain the existing cable rate for cable operators providing commingled video and Internet services," Polka said in a statement.
In other comments, the ACA:
• Backed the FCC's proposal to implement a five-step process governing the conduct of pole owners that need to prepare poles for cable attachments.
• Supported an FCC proposal to allow pole attachers to use contractors to perform surveys and make-ready work if a utility has failed to perform its obligations within the FCC's proposed timeline.
• Called on the FCC preserve the "sign and sue" rule, which allows a cable attacher to execute a pole attachment agreement with a utility, and then later file a complaint challenging the lawfulness of a provision of that agreement.

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