The FCC stepped up to the plate today to remove barriers to broadband infrastructure investment and lower the costs of broadband deployment, a key recommendation of the Commission’s National Broadband Plan. It was a good day at the dish, but it looks as if this game is headed to extra-innings.
As many of you know, the Commission’s pole attachment Order, adopted today, confirmed its authority to oversee all pole attachment rates, but it failed to set a benchmark rate for traditional phone companies, such as AT&T. What this means, at least for the near term, is that traditional phone companies will continue to pay rates that are multiple times higher than their broadband competitors – cable companies and CLECs.
So, you can say that the Commission took a step in the right direction, and they should be applauded for that. But this game is far from over.
Remember, as we indicated in our comments in this proceeding, different rates for different types of firms using the same space on a pole makes little sense when the cost of providing the space is the same to the utility pole owner. For those who have not closely followed this proceeding, the record makes it clear that traditional phone companies pay rates under monopoly-era agreements negotiated in the early to mid 20th Century that are up to 14 times higher than their broadband competitors. A benchmark attachment rate that is “low and uniform,” as the National Broadband Plan sought to achieve, would have sent a clear signal to certain pole owners that the days of leveraging these monopoly-era pole attachment agreements to secure escalating attachment revenue from phone companies was over.
To be fair, the FCC’s Order takes a step in the right direction when it acknowledges that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 gives the Commission broad power to regulate the rates, terms, and conditions affecting any pole attachment, including those of phone companies. This statement of authority makes it clear that traditional phone companies have the ability to file a complaint with the FCC if they believe they are being overcharged by utility pole owners.
As anyone familiar with complaint proceedings can attest, however, this process will take extra-innings (i.e., several years) to complete and the actual reduction in pole attachment rates for traditional phone companies will come only at the end of that process.
Until those savings are realized we will continue to work with the Commission to reach the goals contained in its National Broadband Plan and the President’s recent call to deploy broadband to 98% of the country in five years.
Trust me. You don’t get many at-bats in a game about broadband pole attachments so you have to make the most of the ones you get. While it was a good day at the dish for the Commission, we’ll be looking to see the federal agency improve its batting average during the complaint proceedings that follow.