In 1978, when cable service was young and growing fast, Congress authorized the FCC to regulate "pole attachments": the rates that owners of poles (usually electric utilities) could charge cable systems for space to string their wires, and the conditions under which utilities could refuse to accommodate them. The FCC adopted rules in a series of vehemently contested orders, then refereed hundreds of disputes over how to apply the resulting formulas.

By the time of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, cable service had grown and matured. Various telecommunications providers, some seeking to compete with cable, also wanted pole space. The 1996 Act accordingly updated the FCC’s authority. Among other changes, it expanded jurisdiction over poles also to encompass any duct, conduit, or right-of-way owned or controlled by a utility. And it allowed the FCC to separately regulate pole attachments for cable service and for telecommunications service. Another contentious series of orders ensued.

Yesterday the FCC once again took the lid off the pot with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that opens another overhaul of the pole attachment regime. The FCC notes that cable companies increasingly offer telecommunications services, and vice versa, thus calling into question the wisdom of separate rules for the two categories. The FCC proposes a new uniform rate for broadband services regardless of platform, somewhere in between the current cable and telecom rates.

Comment and reply dates have not been established. The NPRM is here.