Pole Attachments in Maine

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Brief History of Pole Attachment Rule Changes in Maine

Prior to 1978, the regulation of pole attachments occurred at the state and local level and poles were primarily owned by ILECs and Electric Utilities. As the cable TV industry emerged, some pole owners charged cable companies monopoly rents.  Congress responded with the Pole Attachment Act.  The act guaranteed cable companies “just and reasonable rates, terms, and conditions” as well as a dispute resolution process. 

The Act also allowed states the right to opt out of the federal pole attachment regulation process through a “reverse preemption” provision.  Twenty-Three states and the District of Columbia have opted out of federal regulation.  Maine is one of the reverse pre-emption states regulating pole attachments and the complaint process through its Chapter 880 Rule. 

Over the years, the telecommunications landscape in Maine and across the country changed dramatically. 

  • The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed,
  • Competitive Local Exchange Carriers arrived in the marketplace,
  • Cable companies began offering voice and broadband services in addition to TV services
  • The mobile wireless industry began offering voice service throughout Maine. 
  • Broadband providers who were neither the traditional phone companies, CLECs, or cable companies emerged on the marketplace
  • Municipalities began offering broadband service to their communities

As more diverse entities began offering broadband services, it became clear that by 2015, Maine’s pole attachment rules as written, were not equipped to regulate the evolving telecommunications marketplace.

For the first time in 22 years, the Commission underwent a serious overhaul of Chapter 880 with an inquiry (Docket 2015-00295) into the Commission’s pole attachment rules.  For the next eight years, the Commission has steadfastly worked with pole owners, attachers and various interested parties to address significant issues concerning pole attachments.  The Maine Commission, as well as intervening parties, have tracked changes to federal pole attachment roles and implemented those changes in a manner that best fits Maine’s utility landscape.  The major rulemaking proceedings relate to:

  • Terms and Conditions
  • Pole Rental Rates (Cable Rate) and Municipal Exemption
  • One Touch Make Ready and Abandoned Poles
  • Pole Attachment Database

Terms and Conditions
On January 12, 2018, the Commission opened Docket 2017-00247 to resolve a fundamental question regarding whether the terms of Chapter 880 are prescriptive or presumptive, to update and modernize the reasonable terms and conditions for pole attachments, and to address issues regarding the attachment to poles by municipalities for municipal purposes.

Pole Rental Rate (Cable Rate) and Municipal Exemption
On November 6, 2019, the Commission opened Docket 2019-00028 and again amended Chapter 880. In this rulemaking, the Commission adopted the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) "Cable Rate" formula. As the provisions of Chapter 880 are presumptive and not prescriptive, pole owners and attachers remain free to negotiate rate agreements that differ from the Cable Rate. The Commission stated that it will, however, apply the Cable Rate in any rate dispute brought before it.

In addition, the Commission amended the portion of the Rule that contains the so-called "municipal exemption." The Commission modified the municipal exemption portion of the Rule to conform with P.L. 2019 ch. 127, "An Act to Establish Municipal Access to Utility Poles Located in Municipal Rights-of-way" (the Municipal Access Act).

The Municipal Access Act amended 35-A M.R.S. § 2524 to state that pole owners and current attachers to any joint use utility pole are responsible for the costs of any makeready work (including replacement of a pole) that is necessary to accommodate a municipal attachment to a pole for police power purposes, or "[f]or the purpose of providing broadband service to an unserved or underserved area." 35-A M.R.S. §2524(1), (2).

One Touch Make Ready and Abandoned Poles
On November 18, 2020, the Commission opened Docket 2020-00281 to amend Chapter 880 to implement One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) in Maine and to craft rules regarding unused utility poles in public rights of way. 

Pole Attachment Database
On March 29, 2023, the Commission opened Docket 2023-00058 to amend Chapter 880 of the Commission's Rules regarding attachments to joint use utility poles. Specifically, the Commission proposes to amend Chapter 880 to require participation by pole attachers in any pole management database implemented by owners of joint-use utility poles.

Learn more about these rulemakings.