In the past few years, states around the U.S. have made incremental changes in their laws to ease restrictions on municipalities and cooperatives interested in developing high-quality Internet network infrastructure. When communities in Connecticut wanted to exercise their right to space on utility poles at no cost, however, pole owners objected. After a drawn out review of the state's "Municipal Gain" law, local communities have finally obtained the decision they've pursued to develop cost-effective publicly owned fiber optic municipal networks.
Process, Procedure, and PURA
In 2016, the state's Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) turned to Connecticut's Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA) and asked the agency to clarify a 110-year-old state law regarding utility poles in municipal rights-of-way (ROW). In Connecticut, about 900,000 of the poles are scattered throughout the state and are prime locations for fiber optic cables for improved connectivity. Most of the poles belong to Verizon, Frontier, one of the state's electric providers, or are jointly owned by two or more of them.
The Municipal Gain Law was created in the early 1900s to give local communities reserved space with no attachment fee on the poles in order to hang telegraph wires. As telephone and other technologies evolved that required wiring, municipalities wanted to take advantage of the space. There were several lawsuits between pole owners and municipalities over the years with pole owner interests usually losing out to the needs of the public. By 2013, it became clear that amending the law to allow communities to access the municipal gain space "for any use" made sense and the state legislature made the statutory language change. Local communities saw the change as an opportunity to string fiber in the space, establishing publicly owned infrastructure on which they could partner with private sector providers for improved local connectivity.
Incumbent Internet access companies saw it as a threat to their monopolies and mobilized to stop the trend. Incumbent ISPs began with tactics such as pole attachment agreements with strict terms that limited municipalities' ability to complete a project in a timely manner....Read more