Maine Fiber Company: Utility pole attachment make-ready is our single largest operating expense

MFC says LD 406 will remove road blocks to new fiber construction in Maine.

Maine Fiber Company (MFC), the company behind building the state’s wholesale dark fiber-based Three Ring Binder (3RB) middle mile network, is showing support for Maine lawmakers’ proposed LD 406 bill that’s designed to upgrade the state’s outdated pole attachment regulations.

LD 406 was introduced by Senator David Woodsome of York, Maine, and co-sponsored by Representative Seth Berry of Bowdoinham and Senate President Michael Thibodeau of Waldo, Maine.

In a blog post, MFC said that “this bill will open the door to some strategic changes in the utility pole attachment process and is long overdue for Maine.”

Overcoming make-ready challenges

MFC itself has negotiated over 30 pole attachment agreements to attach fiber cables on poles throughout the state. The service provider is currently attached to about 31,000 poles in Maine. 

Like other emerging service providers, the service provider’s biggest deployment hurdle is the “make-ready” process with local power utilities that are typically the owners of the poles.

Under the current process, a new applicant like MFC has to wait 30 days for the pole owners to provide a cost estimate.  A utility will provide the applicant with how much it will cost to move cables on each pole to make room for the new entrant. Additionally, the utility lists the other parties already attached to the pole and indicates where they need to move in order to make space for the applicant’s new cable.  

After the applicant pays the make-ready costs to the pole owners, the pole owners have four months to complete their work and the applicant has to contact the other current attachers to get them to move their cables so that they won’t disturb each other.

MFC said that while the process to put up a new cable after the make-ready work is done, the recurring annual license fees to access those poles “is our single largest operating expense.” 

Empowering Maine’s PUC  

The state’s current law is over 20 years old and did not take into mind the role that ISPs or dark fiber providers would play in the community. 

By modernizing the current law, MFC said LD 406 will clarify the types of providers that can attach their facilities to poles.

It will also give the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) the authority to set pole attachment terms, conditions and rates. 

“The MPUC, as an informed but neutral party, is the right organization to take this on,” MFC said. “There is an inherent conflict of interest if the pole owning utilities are left to negotiate terms and rates with their competitors.”

MFC added that there are a number of new pole attachment reform proposals: FCC’s call for expedited make-ready intervals and “One-Touch” make ready, which allows a single contractor to do all the make-ready work, or naming a single party as the pole administrator for the entire state.  

“We think the MPUC is in the best position to ensure pole owners, many of whom are competitors to new attachment seekers, do no practical or economic harm to companies that seek to build competitive fiber networks in Maine,” MFC said.

RELATED: AT&T says Google Fiber’s bad info delayed pole attachments

Conflicts over pole attachments are not just relegated to Maine.

In Tennessee, Google Fiber’s call for a One-Touch make-ready process has driven a war of words with local incumbent telco AT&T.

AT&T, which established a nationwide contract with Google Fiber to attach its facilities to the poles the telco owns, looks at each attachment process city by city.         

Under its One-Touch make-ready proposal, Google Fiber said it should be able to move existing Comcast and AT&T cables itself on utility poles owned by Nashville Electric Services (NES). This would circumvent the old make-ready rules that require Google Fiber to notify NES of the need to make space for its cables, only to have NES contact AT&T and Comcast to execute the actual work. 

However, AT&T blamed Google Fiber for submitting incorrect information about the poles.