December 12, 2023

During its December open meeting this week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will consider proposed actions to its three-year old pole attachments proceeding. Predictably, groups like USTelecom, which represent some poles owners, continue to purposely mischaracterize efforts to address pole-related barriers and conveniently fail to mention the decades of complaints their own members have lodged around unfair pole costs and abuses of outdated pole attachment processes that echo those of CTF’s supporters. 

In the Pole Replacement Declaratory Ruling, the FCC clarified that “…all of the parties that benefit from the [pole] replacement must share proportionally in the cost, including utilities.” Yet too many pole owners continue to define “share proportionally” as them paying $0. That’s why the FCC must implement clearly defined, fair standards for how the costs of pole replacement investments should be shared between pole owners and those who rent space on their poles. 

Of course, USTelecom member companies understand these concerns very well, having repeatedly asked the FCC for assistance with excessive delays and for help securing “just and reasonable” pole attachment costs when they themselves have faced trouble in attaching their infrastructure to poles. 

  • AT&T, September 2020“Despite AT&T’s request for and efforts to negotiate ‘just and reasonable’ rates to which it is entitled by law, Duke Energy Progress failed to provide even a single rate proposal in response to AT&T’s repeated requests—despite phone calls, correspondence, and two face-to-face executive-level meetings discussing the issues that form the basis of this Complaint.” 
  • Lumos Network, July 2020: “…[Lumos Network] regularly encountered situations to absorb the entire cost of survey and make-ready work merely because it happened to be the first attacher requesting access to a certain route or to certain pole lines…pole owners typically expect the new attacher to pay all of the costs of make-ready and will then often seek additional remuneration from existing attachers for costs they already recouped.” 
  • Verizon, November 2019: “Since early 2012, Verizon has asked FirstEnergy for just and reasonable rental rates, focusing first on the rates Pennsylvania affiliate Met-Ed imposed and later expanding the discussions to include Potomac Edison and two additional Pennsylvania affiliates, Penelec and Penn Power. Throughout, FirstEnergy has deployed stalling tactics and offered evolving—but consistently meritless—explanations in a coordinated effort to maintain its excessive pole rent income stream.” 
  • Verizon, August 2015: “…Dominion has stonewalled and rebuffed Verizon’s efforts to negotiate a just and reasonable rental rate for nearly twenty-two months. Since October 2013, Verizon has done everything possible to negotiate the just and reasonable rate from Dominion to which it is entitled under the 2011 Order, through exhaustive emails, letters, and conference calls, face-to-face meetings with Dominion executives, and most recently even in a private mediation attended by more than a half dozen Dominion executives and lawyers. All to no avail: for a full year of negotiations, Dominion did not even offer Verizon a different rental rate; when it finally did, Dominion proposed a rate increase.” 

The reality is – and the USTelecom members above should surely agree – that too many pole owners evade the costs of repairing and upgrading their infrastructure by unfairly shifting the full cost of new utility poles to internet service providers. Broadband providers are not seeking free access to poles. They are simply asking to pay their fair share, which is certainly not the entire cost of an old pole when it needs to be replaced, as pole owners gain significant benefits from these new poles that last for 30-40 years. Earlier this year, Canadian regulators adopted rules requiring pole owners to bear at least 50 percent of the cost of that investment, given the benefits they receive from newly replaced poles. 


With thousands of broadband deployment projects already underway and states rushing to outline their BEAD spending plans, we need immediate FCC action that ensures pole owners pay their fair share for investments in their own infrastructure. Otherwise, our nation’s broadband for all goals are at risk and Americans will continue to fall behind.