PTA members: PUC assumption of jurisdiction over pole attachments will further rural broadband efforts

In comments filed on October 29, members of the Pennsylvania Telephone Association (PTA) urged the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to assume pole attachment jurisdiction from Washington as a way to further rural broadband deployment. But PTA members, Pennsylvania’s rural carriers (or RLECs), also urged the PUC not to stray from federal guidelines covering the poles unless the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is slow to act to address a problem specific to Pennsylvania.

The PUC proposed “reverse-preemption” of pole attachment jurisdiction in a July 12 filing.

“If the FCC makes changes to improve the process, Pennsylvania will automatically follow suit,” PTA members said. “If the FCC is slow to act or takes no action to remedy any problems which remain, then the PUC could initiate its own remedy. The PUC could also act in the case where FCC rules may not line up with the interest of Pennsylvania, but only after the RLECs and the PUC have had time to review the success or failure of implementing those rules.”

The RLECs are optimistic that reverse-preemption of the rules by the PUC will encourage more productive negotiations between pole owners and the carriers, who are on the front lines providing broadband service in Pennsylvania’s rural areas. PUC jurisdiction also means that “enforcement would be handled at the state level by a utility commission much closer to the facts on the street.”

Ready, affordable access to the poles is critical if the RLECs are going to continue to meet ever higher demands for broadband speeds in rural areas. But the carriers have experienced instances where “pole owners have simply refused to respond to attachment requests, or respond, accept payment for make ready work or attachment costs, and fail to do the work.”

“In other cases, the Companies have experienced exorbitant and/or unjustified make-ready/attachment quotes,” PTA members said.

The RLECs are not only the carriers of last resort (COLR) for basic voice service for many rural customers but the only reliable, hard-wired source for broadband in many rural areas. As their comment letter to the PUC notes, the RLECs ‘have extensive experience in deploying broadband throughout the Commonwealth under a variety of statutory and regulatory directives including the provisions of Act 183 of 2004 and the FCC’s Connect America Fund (CAF).”

“Act 183 statutorily mandated universal broadband availability to any customer at speeds of 1.544Mbps within ten business days of a request. The Companies met their statutory obligations and, in most if not all areas throughout Pennsylvania, have exceeded them.”

“The PTA has also committed to working with the Pennsylvania Office of Broadband Initiatives to explore any alternatives which would facilitate the accelerated deployment of broadband services in rural Pennsylvania.”

Full comment letter is attached. (PDF)