Judges uphold limits on utilities' pole power

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Federal judges Friday upheld Federal Communications Commission 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 federal appeals court in Atlanta also refused the utilities' bid for authority to
limit who places attachments to their own employees and contractors and to be
absolved 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 for 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 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 to their
offerings.

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