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FCC revamps pole-attachment rules for broadband services

The goal of the new rules is to speed up broadband deployment across the U.S., the agency says

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has voted to revamp nationwide rules governing how broadband providers can attach their lines to utility poles, with the goal of making it faster and easier to deploy new service in underserved areas.

The FCC voted unanimously for the new pole-attachment rules, which require electric utilities to allow most broadband services to attach lines to poles within 148 days of a request, with a deadline of 178 days for putting wireless broadband antennas on top of utility poles. Pole owners, which also include some telecom providers, would have an extra 60 days for requests involving large numbers of poles.

The pole-attachment rules are a "critical component" of the FCC's 2010 national broadband plan, which set a goal of bringing broadband service to all U.S. residents, said Commissioner Michael Copps .

Pole-attachment rules are "not very sexy or exciting, and you can pretty quickly get lost in the weeds," Copps said. However, the vote should help broadband providers deploy service faster to areas that need it, he added.

The new rules are a "major step in reducing barriers to broadband deployment," added FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski . "Our actions will enable and accelerate billions [b] of dollars of private investment in the 21st century infrastructure America needs to create jobs, grow our economy, and compete globally," he added.

But the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC), a trade group representing electric utilities, said the new rules will promote the profits of big broadband companies at the expense of electricity customers. The rules will also threaten the safety of the electrical system by imposing additional access requirements affecting utility safety and engineering practices, the group said.

"Utilities support broadband deployment but not at the expense of electric consumers and the safety of critical infrastructure," William Moroney , UTC's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Ultimately, these subsidies are borne by electric utility customers; and it is far from clear whether broadband consumers will see any discount on their bill. This is a bailout for the communications industry that won't benefit broadband consumers and will harm electric consumers."

The new rules require pole owners to give wireless broadband providers the same rate as other telecom carriers. They allow incumbent telecom carriers to file complaints with the FCC about unreasonable rates demanded by utilities, and they require that pole owners that deny pole-attachment requests must explain the specific safety, engineering or other concern.

The FCC on Wednesday also voted to open a notice of inquiry focused on providing broadband rights of way on U.S. government property and on speeding up the siting process for mobile phone towers.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association and CTIA, a trade group representing mobile carriers, both praised the FCC pole-attachment action. The FCC took "concrete steps to address key issues affecting wireless broadband infrastructure deployment," CTIA said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.


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