By Sylvie Dale
Washington, D.C., October 3, 2001 — The U.S. Supreme Court has begun hearing arguments on whether federal regulators can set the rates some cable TV providers pay to string wires on utility poles owned by such companies as American Electric Power, Duke Energy Corp. and Conectiv.
The court heard arguments between cable companies offering high-speed Internet access and the utility companies whose poles are used to accomplish this, Dow Jones Newswires reported. The Federal Communications Commission established pole attachment rates, which also apply to wireless service providers that need space on utility poles to hang antennas and other systems.
Congress authorized FCC to set rates for cable-television service under the 1977 Pole Attachment Act, but a group of electric utilities argued that the FCC overstepped its bounds in this case. The law was expanded in 1996 to include telecommunications providers, and the FCC in 1998 made a decision that the 1996 expansion would safely cover cable equipment used for high-speed Internet access and wireless services.
The FCC’s interpretation caused a rash of lawsuits which were eventually consolidated into one case and scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court.
If the group of utilities win, cable access providers like AT&T would likely pay higher prices for use of the utility poles, which would then raise consumer prices for access. But they have said that a ruling in their favor would make things more fair for everyone, with broadband-cable providers paying the same unregulated rates as local phone companies and some Internet service providers.
The court will make a decision sometime in the middle of 2002.