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Telephone Poles

May 21st, 2010 by Marcus Maher

Whoops.  The title of this blog post is wrong. It should be “utility poles,” which points to one of the many ironies in the hidden life of the ubiquitous utility pole.  Most of what are commonly known as telephone poles are actually owned by the electric utility –70% of them, in fact.  But whether a telephone company or other utility owns the poles, every other kind of company that hangs anything on these poles pays the utility company for the privilege, and under current federal rules a cable company and a telephone company pay different rates for attaching their lines to a pole.  But now that broadband and IP communications are merging voice, data and video, charging different rates for different types of communications services seems to make less and less sense.

Make no mistake about it: the humble telephone, er, utility pole, is hot real estate.  Companies pay, on average, anywhere between $7 per foot and $20 per foot for a pole attachment.  Multiplied by hundreds of thousand of poles, that can have an impact on whether services are delivered to a community or not.  Utility poles are essential infrastructure, and infrastructure costs can affect the price or availability of service, the National Broadband Plan found.  In rural areas, where there may be more poles per mile than people, the cost of pole attachments could deter broadband deployment.  Or in other instances, a cable company planning to bundle voice, data and video in the coaxial cable might be deterred if the voice service would subject the company to a higher pole attachment rate.

Also, it can take new companies many months or even years to get their facilities on the poles.  Adding a new attacher often means that existing attachers must all move their wires, which they have little incentive to do quickly.  Frustrated attachers may be tempted to take matters into their own hands and put up their wires in secret, which can be unsafe as well as unfair to the pole owner.  Access can become even more complicated when wireless carriers want to put their antennas on pole tops to fill in cellular coverage.  

So following up on the National Broadband Plan, the Commission is taking a look at ways to reduce costs and speed access to poles in an Order and FNPRM released in yesterday's Open Commission Meeting.  The item will also look at whether rates can be made as low and as close to uniform as possible.  So next time you walk down the street, don’t take that humble stick of creosoted dead tree for granted.  It’s as important a part of delivering you 21st century communications as that slick iPad is – though maybe not as pretty to look at.

7 Responses to “Telephone Poles”

  1. A. Robinson-Neal says:

    I am wondering if a broadband application will be made available for other mobile devices beyond the iPhone and Android systems. There are other companies and providers out there whose users contribute to the strain placed on the wireless network. The FCC should be concerned to capture as much data as possible. I understand that the current applications are in Beta, but please consider including the rest of us in the process as well. Thank you!

  2. Guest says:

    Well; my local county commission refuses for the rural areas to be "up with the latest technology". I see utility poles every 45-60 feet on every road in my rural area. In my community area we do not receive cellular, cable, or even an internet connection over 45.2kbps. We are isolated in the 1975 era.

  3. Rural Resident and Dial-up user says:

    Were I live the only utility poles are Power for Socal edison and all the phone lines are underground but the draw back is that for the whole city Verizon has a small switching station with Limited DSL connection at the station and it has been full since last october before I could order a slot. I live in Phelan, CA and we are in between 2 citys with FiOS, DSL, and Cable but we are in the middle have have no more DSL connectivity and satellite is still to expensive for me being on fixed income.

  4. Dial-up User and Rural Resident says:

    As a word of info that there are rural areas with the Phone lines under ground and not on poles while power line remains on pole or under ground.

  5. Robert says:

    What about lines run in the ground? who owns the ground along the roads that the lines are run? maybe instead of multiple companies running the same kind of wire to give the same connection, there should be one wire/fiber cable and the different companies rent space on the wire to provide service's. Also why does the Electric companies deserve to have a monopoly. We only get one choice for electric and landline telephone. one choice is a monopoly. maybe if elec. comp. run lines to every single house in the country then they should offer broadband over their lines. BPL would be the fastest to rural america cause they already have lines run. these are just thoughts i have had for a long time. not that anyone would probably even read this comment though.

  6. teresa says:

    I am trying to find out who is responsible for the cost of moving 2 poles 12 feet. The electric is for the industry block and not just the land owners building. edison wanted them moved. How much does something like this cost. Desperately trying to understand.

  7. Joe says:

    I live in New York and there must be 20 poles on my suburban block alone. Most of them 40 to 50 years old with many leaning and seamingly being held in place by the wires they are supposed to be holding up.

    Meanwhile there are rats nests of abandonded junctions and splices that have been made over the years since NY Bell Telephone prevailed. Now Cablevision provides telephone communications at the best package price.

    So what is going to happen to all of these poles when the next turn of technology happens?

    TV/Voice/Internet will come from a fiber optic cable in the ground. Power will come from a solar panel on the roof (with the higher efficient solar panel) and all the poles will go away over the coarse of the next 50 years.

    Tell your grandkids, there used to be these things called "Telephone Poles"

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