Court upholds pole access rules

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A federal appeals court in Atlanta Friday upheld FCC rules requiring utility companies to lease unused pole space to cable companies.

The rules, issued in 1996, barred utilities from holding on to capacity they
have reserved for future use.

The FCC ruled that reserved space must be offered to cable companies until
utilities are prepared to put the space in use.

The court also refused the utilities' bid for authority to limit who places
attachments to their own employees and contractors and to be freed of FCC
guidelines regarding notification of third-party attachers when poles need
modification.

The court also upheld a requirement that utilities grant third-party access
to all poles, ducts, conduits or rights-of-way when those facilities are used in
part for wire communications services.

Officials at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association praised
the ruling.

'The court rejected the utilities' numerous schemes to obstruct cable
operators' access to utility poles,' said NCTA law and regulatory policy chief
Daniel Brenner. 'This decision bodes well for the efforts by cable operators to
bring consumers new products and services.'

Utilities did get some of what they asked, however.

Specifically, the court struck down an FCC mandate for access to switching
stations, substations and other transmission systems used for carrying large
quantities of energy over long distances.

The court also ruled that utilities are not obligated to expand capacity of
poles when there is no room for third-party attachments.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court shot down power companies' bid to raise
the rates cable operators pay to string lines to utility poles.

That decision retained FCC rate caps when cable companies add Internet
service.

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