published Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Cable companies attack Tennessee bill on utility pole fees

Tennessee Senator Bo Watson
Tennessee Senator Bo Watson
Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Republican Sen. Bo Watson, of Chattanooga, said Monday his bill establishing a framework to handle pole attachment issues between the public power distributors that own them and investor-owned cable companies is an attempt to resolve the years-long fight.

But the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, which represents cable operators such as Comcast, charges the bill will result in a "new, outrageously high fee on broadband providers across the state."

The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, is scheduled to come before a Senate committee today.

Watson said the bill is an attempt to resolve issues between the cable industry and municipal electric services, such as Chattanooga's EPB, and rural electric cooperatives.

"If you keep in mind that the co-ops' and municipal electric services' No. 1 mission in life is to keep electric rates as low as possible, well, anything that shifts the costs of that pole onto the ratepayers is potentially raising the rate of electricity, which is counter to the mission that [they] have," Watson said.

Under current law, no one can attach lines or otherwise use the poles without the consent of utilities.

The bill establishes a cost-sharing framework for pole attachment fee negotiations between utilities and attaching parties. It also creates a dispute resolution mechanism for unsuccessful negotiations between parties.

Cable operators charge it would nearly double the rates they currently pay and are pressing their own bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova.

EPB spokesman John Pless said in an email statement that the municipal electric service "does not want our electric customers to subsidize the cable industry. Comcast pays us an average of $1.02 per utility pole per month. The cost to own and maintain each one of our utility poles is about $100 to $120 per year.

"We think the bill on the table is a reasonable compromise," Pless said. "We have, and will continue to negotiate with Comcast in good faith to reach fair payments for pole attachments."

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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