CPUC considers open access to poles for mobile carriers

1 December 2015 by Steve Blum
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Mobile carriers use a lot of feet on poles, telephone and cable companies use a lot of poles.

Mobile carriers will get more or less the same access to utility poles as currently enjoyed by telephone and cable companies, if the California Public Utilities Commission approves a draft decision that’s scheduled to be on the table at its meeting on Thursday.

That would clear the way for the installation of small cellular access points on utility poles, making it easier for mobile carriers to greatly increase the coverage density of their networks, even down to the several-cells-per-city-block level that’s envisioned for 5G networks over the next five to ten years. It would also make it easier for carriers to extend mobile telephone and broadband service into rural areas – installing a small access point on top of an existing utility pole is a lot cheaper than building a cell site from scratch.

All of that is doable now – the commission is coincidently scheduled to vote on a small cell project along the San Mateo County coast on Thursday – but the new rules would set uniform terms and safety standards, and make access mandatory instead of subject to negotiation.

The pricing scheme for mobile carriers would be different from the rate paid by telephone and cable companies. Instead of a flat rate per pole (7.4% of the host utility’s “cost of ownership”), mobile carriers would pay 7.4% per foot of the pole that’s used. The difference lies in the kind of facilities that each install. Cable and telephone companies mostly attach cables to poles, and the standard assumption is that when they do, they just occupy one vertical foot of the pole. Mobile carriers, on the other hand, install boxes and antennas on poles, and that takes up a lot more room.