As discussed on this site earlier this year (see ICORE Blog dated 2/17/23), in March of 2022 the FCC adopted a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) regarding the Commission’s Pole Attachment Rules. The stated goal of the NPRM was to establish clear standards for how utilities and attachers must share the costs of pole replacements. The Commission believes that resolving issues and disputes related to pole replacements will speed up the deployment of broadband services and facilities. Based on comments received from interested parties in the Second FNPRM, on December 13, 2023, the FCC adopted an Order, Declaratory Ruling, and a Third FNPRM on this matter. Please note the following:
* The 12/13/23 Order will speed up the dispute resolution process by establishing the intra-agency Rapid Broadband Assessment Team (RBAT) to provide coordinated review and assessment of pole attachment disputes and recommend dispute resolution procedures. The Order further adopts specific criteria for RBAT to use when considering whether a complaint should be included on the Commission’s Accelerated Docket. In addition, the Order amends the Commission’s make-ready rules to require utilities to provide to potential attachers, upon request, information contained in the utilities’ most recent cyclical pole inspection reports.
* The Declaratory Order clarifies that a “red tagged” pole is one that the utility has identified as needing replacement for any reason other than the pole’s lack of additional space to accommodate a new attachment. The Declaratory Order also provides additional clarification on when a pole replacement is not “necessitated solely” as a result of a third party’s attachment or modification request when a pole already requires replacement at the time the request is made.
* The Third FNPRM seeks comment on whether the Commission should take further action to facilitate the handling of pole attachment requests that include a large number of attachments (more than 3000 poles or 5% of utilities poles in a state). In addition, comments are sought relative to the use by attachers of their own contractors for surveys and make ready work.
This issue is important to all utilities and pole owners. ICORE will continue to monitor this issue as the FNPRM progresses and will provide updates as more information becomes available.