PUC considering taking over FCC duties to speed broadband installation

Currently, the federal government has jurisdiction over attachments to telephone poles in Pennsylvania. A proposal from the state Utility Commission would change that. (AP Photo/John Flavell)

Currently, the federal government has jurisdiction over attachments to telephone poles in Pennsylvania. A proposal from the state Utility Commission would change that. (AP Photo/John Flavell)

The state Public Utility Commission is considering taking over jurisdiction of certain utilities from the federal government in an effort to bring high-speed broadband to underserved rural areas.

The PUC said its main goal is resolving telephone pole disputes faster than the Federal Communications Commission can.

One of the main ways broadband gets to customers is through aerial wires on utility poles.

They’re often in crowded company with other cable and phone lines, and in Pennsylvania, all those attachments are under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

PUC Commissioner Norman Kennard said it wouldn’t really matter who’s in charge of that little patch of pole — except the FCC doesn’t have a quick way to solve disputes over the often-coveted space.

If, for instance, a pole is propping up an illegally-installed wire, and a company wants to legally install broadband, it can be difficult and expensive to resolve things.

That’s why Kennard is proposing the PUC adopt the FCC’s rules and use its existing dispute-resolution infrastructure to speed things along.

He said it’s strikingly easy to do — noting the PUC would just have to submit a letter to the federal government.

“It is the most unusual statute I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It is a reverse preemption, so the federal law says unless and until the state takes jurisdiction, jurisdiction is federal.”

Kennard first broached the idea last month, and the commission is now seeking public comment on the idea.

“I think it works out well for everybody in Pennsylvania, and I think it works out well for the pole owners because now they have a place to dispute illegal attachments,” he said.

He added, he doesn’t think the commission will need any additional staff to take over the job.

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