PG&E will slow walk its own fiber builds, just like everyone else's

1 June 2017 by Steve Blum
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It’s not going to speed up the process for reviewing requests to attach fiber optic cable to its utility poles, but PG&E won’t give its own, in-house telecoms unit any short cuts either. That’s the top line from PG&E’s reply to objections filed against its request for formal certification by the California Public Utilities Commission as a telecoms company. Several companies and organisations that are, at once, potential competitors, customers and suppliers to a PG&E-operated fiber optic venture (that’s the interconnected nature of the telecoms business) asked the CPUC to delve deeply into the way utility pole attachments are managed.

In its reply, PG&E – correctly – sorted the issues into two buckets: concerns that it would abuse the monopoly power it has as an electric company to benefit its telecoms business in the future, and general complaints about the way it manages its poles now. To alleviate the former, it proposes to maintain an arms-length relationship between the telecoms enterprise and the staff who manage its poles. Any attachment requests from its own, in house unit will have to be submitted in exactly the same, excruiatingly bureaucratic way as any other telecoms company, and slowly processed in the order received.

As for the way that process works, PG&E takes the position that it’s a matter that relates to how it operates as an electric utility, and has no bearing on whether or not it should be allowed to operate a separate telecoms business. It then goes on to explain that it should be allowed to drag out pole attachment approvals because all the people who do that kind of work get paid by the electric side of the house – which is to say by electric ratepayers – and if they had to work faster it would raise everyone’s energy bills.

That’s a semi-true statement, as far as it goes, but it misses the point. If PG&E goes beyond simply leasing dark fiber and becomes an active player in California’s telecoms market, then it should also have to begin taking on the associated responsibilities. An expanded role also brings expanded revenue, and managing poles more like a telecoms company – to one extent or another – is part of the cost of doing business.