Competitive pole access, urban streetscapes considered by CPUC

The California Public Utilities Commission will decide whether wireline telephone companies and other licensed telecommunications companies can attach wireless equipment to utility poles on the same terms as mobile carriers. Responding to a request from the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), a lobbying group for companies that build and own cell towers and similar facilities, CPUC president Michael Picker is proposing to start the process that could eventually grant that permission.

But the questions he wants to ask go beyond the simple technical and legal considerations that go along with the current pole attachment rules, and touch on broader questions of competitive barriers and how much infrastructure is too much, particularly in urban areas…

Although the scope of this proceeding is limited to [licensed telecoms companies’] wireless pole attachments, we will take comment on (1) whether there is sufficient space and load-bearing capacity on the stock of existing utility poles to support additional telecommunications attachments, including wireless pole attachments, that may be necessary to provide ubiquitous, competitive, and affordable telecommunications services; (2) whether the cost of replacing existing poles to support additional telecommunications attachments poses a barrier to entry; and (3) whether urban streetscapes can accommodate more pole attachments, the replacement of existing poles with larger poles, and possibly an increase in the number of poles. We will also take comment on the range of pole attachments and services contemplated by WIA.

It’s not clear what he plans to do with the information about the type of wireless services that might be offered, but that sort of regulation is primarily a federal matter and CPUC has very limited, and decreasing, scope in that regard. But if it’s just about getting more information into the record and in the hands of policy makers, it’s a very positive step.

Picker’s willingness to consider WIA’s petition stands in contrast to his decision – ratified by the commission as a whole – to deny cable companies the same privileges. As a practical matter, though, most cable companies have licensed telecom subsidiaries, as their lobbyists have pointed out.

The commission will vote on Picker’s plan to take a deeper look at competitive access, or lack thereof, to utility poles, but it would be very unusual for permission to be denied – that would, in effect, decide the issue – so expect to hear more about it in the coming months.