Charter suspends complaint against Verizon over utility pole access

utility pole
Access to utility poles has become a major issue in the telecom industry.

Charter Communications has suspended a complaint against Verizon centered on access to utility poles in New York state. “In the interest of allowing the pole owners to focus their present efforts on accelerating their review and approval of Charter's applications [to access poles], Charter believes it would be appropriate for the commission to temporarily hold in abeyance any deadlines related to the complain proceedings, without prejudice to Charter’s right to resume those proceedings at any time,” the company wrote in a filing on the topic, as noted in a new report from the Times Union in New York.

“Charter’s objective in filing the Pole Attachment Complaints has always been to obtain timely access to the Pole Owners’ poles so that Charter can bring its services to more unserved and underserved New Yorkers. In the few weeks since Charter initiated those complaints, the Pole Owners have become actively engaged in responding to Charter’s concerns and coordinating with Charter and with one another,” Charter wrote. “Charter has been encouraged by preliminary signs of progress, in constructive and collaborative negotiations organized and supervised by Staff, and by the Pole Owners in addressing some of the sources of delay identified in Charter’s complaints and working with Charter to develop innovative methods to address this significant project.”

In late June Charter accused Verizon of violating New York’s state public service law and regulations by denying access to utility poles. Charter said the issue was preventing it from meeting the network-buildout conditions—to reach to 145,000 homes and businesses by May 2020—that it agreed to as part of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable.

Specifically, Charter argued it had submitted 822 pole attachment applications to Verizon, asking to attach facilities to over 55,000 poles, but that Verizon had only agreed to 179 of those applications covering 4,048 poles.

"We have been more than cooperative and even presented Charter with options to speed up their construction efforts,” Verizon responded at the time. “For them to try to shift blame is puzzling at best. We stand ready to continue to assist them and again provide them with the methods to speed things up.”

Now Charter is dropping its complaint against Verizon, noting progress on the issue. “In the few weeks since Charter initiated those complaints, the Pole Owners have become actively engaged in responding to Charter’s concerns and coordinating with Charter and with one another,” the company wrote. “Charter has been encouraged by preliminary signs of progress, in constructive and collaborative negotiations organized and supervised by Staff, and by the Pole Owners in addressing some of the sources of delay identified in Charter’s complaints and working with Charter to develop innovative methods to address this significant project.”

Representatives from Charter pointed out the company is only requesting abeyance of the complaint, and not dropping the issue altogether. Representatives from Verizon declined to comment further on Charter’s latest action.

Pole attachments overall have been a major issue for a wide range of telecom companies looking to improve their networks. A number of service providers like Google Fiber have advocated for a “one-touch make-ready” process that allows service providers to move existing utility lines from Verizon, AT&T and other service providers. As the Times Union pointed out, National Grid, Frontier Communications, NYSEG and Verizon are the major pole owners in New York state and therefore control access to utility poles there.

The situation is exacerbated by the city-level regulations focusing on access to utility poles and other local facilities, regulations that can vary dramatically from city to city.

Indeed, the issue has become so fraught with complications that the FCC has begun considering federal-level rules regulating access to so-called “street furniture” in an effort to speed up the rollout of high-speed broadband services, including the buildout of small cells and other technologies for wireless networks.

Article updated Aug. 18 to correct the status of Charter's complaint.