PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s utilities regulators may soon follow other states in setting specific standards for giving telecom companies access to utility poles, a move that advocates of broadband expansion argue is a key component of increasing high-speed Internet access.
The Office of the Public Advocate, the public interest watchdog in utilities cases, in June requested the rule change that will receive an audience before the Maine Public Utilities Commission next week.
Public Advocate Tim Schneider and his office’s attorney, Robert Creamer, argued in their request that clear rules for broadband providers to request access to utilities would be a necessary step to expanding service in the state.
“The ability of broadband providers to access the existing utility poles within the state is critical to the deployment of broadband throughout Maine,” the request stated.
State law currently sets out that only telephone service providers and the statewide fiber optic network manager Maine Fiber Co. can demand a response to requests to place lines on existing utility poles, from owners such as FairPoint Communications or Central Maine Power Co.
That request calls for the commission to update Chapter 880 of its rules, which deal primarily with how rates should be set for parties that seek to connect to telephone lines. For Maine Fiber Co., that amount works out to about $15 to $20 per pole.
Maine Fiber, however, was granted a special designation by the Legislature to make such requests.
The requested rule change would create a variety of new categories of telecom service providers and nonregulated utilities that could make similar requests and that would be entitled to either a quote or denial for the request within 45 days.
It’s undecided whether the commission would adopt the specific rule changes recommended by the Office of the Public Advocate, but the agency in April stated in legislative testimony that a review of the rules was due as more “non-traditional providers” have sought to put up equipment on existing utility poles.
Last week, the proposal received a joint statement of support from unregulated cable utilities Time Warner Cable and Comcast, which wrote they sought to bring the pole attachment costs for cable providers in line with those for telephone companies, creating uniform rates.
“Significantly higher pole attachment rates stifle broadband expansion and deployment especially in rural areas of the state,” the companies said in Sept. 4 letter to Maine regulators.
The Maine PUC is scheduled to consider rulemaking for new pole attachment requirements during its meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15.