Pole price pains cable

NCTA, FCC ask court to stay decision on attachment rates

Federal regulators and the cable industry are counting on the Supreme Court to keep a lid on the cost of stringing cable wires on utility poles.

Both the FCC and the National Cable Television Association last week asked a federal court to stay enforcement of an April decision exempting pole rates from federal regulation if cable lines are used for Internet service rather than cable service exclusively.

Their requests came a week after the federal appeals court in Atlanta denied the FCC's request for a rehearing on the issue. The FCC, which plans to ask the Supreme Court to review the case, is asking the lower court to stay enforcement until the case is resolved.

The Atlanta court's initial decision was prompted by Pensacola-based Gulf Power's decision to hike rates paid by Cablevision of Panama City. After the April decision, Gulf Power raised Cablevision's annual rates from $5 per pole to $38 per pole.

The court's ruling is effective only in the southeastern states comprising the 11th Circuit but could be seen as a benchmark.

Despite the Atlanta ruling, the FCC is still enforcing pole-rate caps. On Sept. 8, the agency ordered Alabama Power to cut rates to Comcast-Dothan from $38.81 to $7 and to provide refunds to some cable firms. On Sept. 13, the FCC replayed the move, telling Virginia Electric and Power Co. to cut rates charged from $37 to $5.12 and to give refunds to Cavalier Telephone.

Besides cable costs, the FCC is concerned the decision could lead to stripping the FCC of authority to mandate access to buildings for wireless carriers.