FCC Rules on Pole Attachments

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Washington -- The Federal Communications Commission
delivered a small but sure victory for the cable industry last week, rejecting requests
designed to slow cable's entry into new technologies.

In a ruling required by the 1996 Telecommunications Act,
the FCC encouraged cable companies to place new information-carrying wires over their
current utility-pole attachments, while rebuffing owners' requests that cable
operators provide a map of where they wanted to place new wires, according to lawyers
representing the cable industry.

While the issue sounds arcane and complex, pole attachments
are a tool that utility and telephone companies have used, cable representatives said, to
try to prevent cable from entering Internet and telephone services.

Cable hadn't had problems over pole attachments, but
'electric companies saw a potential threat to their core businesses,' said Dave
Thomas, who represents cable interests as a partner at Cole, Raywid and Braverman, based
here.

But the FCC ruling took a step toward resolving the issue,
Thomas said.

'They get a gold star for adhering closely to
statutory language,' Thomas said. 'It's not the sexiest item in the world,
but they have done what the statute says to do.'

Utility-pole owners, however, also won a small but expected
victory: The rates that cable companies will have to pay for attaching wires to utility
poles will rise, according to the 74-page report.

Starting Feb. 8, 2001, rates for carrying
telecommunications companies' backbone on other companies' poles or conduits
will increase over a five-year period, with one-fifth of the increase being added to the
rate each year.

But the pole-attachment issue hasn't been settled yet.
An upcoming ruling that could have a much greater impact on those rates is still being
formulated by the FCC, and agency officials did not know when it would be ready.

One issue that the FCC has to deal with in the upcoming
decision is what cable companies should be charged for attaching additional wires to ones
that they already have on utility poles -- a process called 'overlashing.'

While the FCC has again encouraged the practice as
pro-competitive in this report, pole owners think that the agency must determine when
overlashing wires should be charged a separate rate from the original attachment.

Agency officials would not comment on the issues that their
upcoming decision will cover.

Thomas expects pole owners to file petitions for
reconsideration with the FCC, which Thomas and others will oppose.

'The message that the FCC has sent is clear -- that
cable operators and others should go forth with building their networks, and they will
look askance at utility companies' efforts to restrict that access by any
means,' Thomas said. 'We will resolve through the FCC complaint processes any
utility transgressions.'

States News Service

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