Calif. Awards Equal Access To Cable Ops

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The California Public Utilities Commission has ensured
competitors equal access to telephone and electric utility poles, conduits and
rights-of-way, a decision lauded by the cable industry as a step toward a "level
playing field" for telephony competition.

Just as importantly, cable officials said, the CPUC ruling
also prevents reciprocal requirements, so cable systems that invest heavily in
infrastructure to deliver new products will not be required to lease their broadband pipes
to utilities with video aspirations.

The equal access provision was the No. 1 priority of California
Cable Television Association
lobbyists this year, who felt pressure to get the
measure negotiated before the November elections and a change of power in the executive
branch to the Democrats.

The measure is also important because it brings new
players, including apartment and office building owners, as well as fiber-rich Pacific Gas
& Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, to the
commission boardroom on the issue. The state's electrical utilities have recently been
deregulated, and the companies are serious about new business opportunities. In fact,
Edison has filed for its own telecommunications subsidiary.

"They [the electric companies] will be our toughest
future competitors. They have more places to hide their investments," said Alan
Gardner, vice president of regulatory and legal affairs, CCTA.

With the decision, apartment owners can't discriminate on
access. That will make for an interesting competitive field for multiple dwelling units,
which represent 40 percent of California's population.

The CPUC ruling allows competitors to negotiate with
utilities for a pole attachment rate, but sets a default rate that will be charged if the
parties can't come to a decision. Those amounts are based on historical computations and
will be approximately $3 per pole for telco plant and $7 per pole for electrical
connections, according to Gardner.

The state board also asserted authority over rights-of-way
issues, pre-empting municipal efforts in the state to control cable operators that have
telco subsidiaries.