On September 27, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the next big thing in the progression of regulated pole attachments. The Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order, while addressing multiple issues including rental fees, overlash, and “self-help” remedies, is mostly known for its introduction of “One Touch Make Ready” (OTMR). SSP’s Gary Miller did a thorough examination in October of 2018 of the order and its potential implications. One of the major provisions of this order allows attaching companies to relocate existing attachments in the communication space on poles, granted that the relocation does not involve “complex” make-ready. Now, two years past the release of the order and over a year and a half since its required implementation, what effects have we seen in the industry? Has the OTMR order accelerated broadband deployment?
To answer these questions, let’s first take an anecdotal approach. At industry conferences, the OTMR changes have dominated conversations and been the topic of many panel discussions. While the order still faces a fair number of legal challenges that are pending in several levels of court, the utility industry in general has embraced the OTMR portion of the order. The general feeling, however, is that the attaching companies are very rarely availing themselves of the OTMR provisions. To be certain, broadband deployment has increased and pole attachments are on the rise, many in support of 5G deployment. Nevertheless, correlation does not necessarily indicate causation. A data-driven approach is thus warranted.
By virtue of our SSP SPANS product offering, we have access to data that spans (no pun intended) multiple pole owners and hundreds of telecommunication companies. To understand the nature of the data, it is helpful to describe how SPANS has been updated to address the OTMR changes. On the initial proposal page, an attribute has been added to designate the work and associated poles as one touch make ready.
Built-in logic reviews the actions selected for each pole, ensuring that this attribute is only displayed when the proposal qualifies for the OTMR workflow. If yes is selected, additional attributes will be required to document the date the survey was completed and who completed the survey.
These attributes are carried forward to the Reply record. A drop-down box requires the responding company to either agree or disagree with the OTMR designation for each individual pole, as well as the proposal as a whole.
If the pole owner determines that complex make ready is required and disagrees with OTMR designation, the proposal will be sent back to the initiating company for revision. Because so much of the FCC’s OTMR ruling centers on timelines, having both an OTMR designation and time stamps allows both parties to monitor the adherence to the established timelines.
SPANS was updated and ready to accommodate OTMR proposals by May 20,2019, the effective date of the order. SPANS is used in 10 states where pole attachments are governed by the FCC. The three instances of SPANS with the most activity were examined to determine the proportion of eligible proposals that were designated to follow the OTMR workflow. The table below summarizes the results:
The data supports what is widely thought amongst utilities – the OTMR changes, sweeping and controversial though they may be, are simply not being utilized. What is contributing to this? A more in-depth study would be needed to be sure, but there are a few easy speculations to make. The first is simple; change can come about slowly, especially in the utility industry and even more so when dealing with joint use. Attaching companies are getting accustomed to the new rules and how to use them to their benefit. Time is needed to resolve questions that may not have been addressed in the FCC’s order.
A second speculation is that, while in theory OTMR should speed things up, in practice it is not very effective. OTMR can only be used when make-ready is simple, no splicing or movement of wireless facilities allowed. The likelihood is low of encountering a run of 10 or more poles where at least one pole does not require complex make ready. Permit applications cannot combine OTMR and Non-OTMR workflows, and thus far it would seem that attaching companies are hesitant to split up the work across multiple applications. Why speed up one set of poles when a pole in the middle of the line will be held up by complex ready?
After such a slow start, what does the future hold for OTMR? It is difficult to predict, but it appears unlikely that there will be any drastic changes happening soon. Yet, with the passage of time, we can expect more companies to become familiar with the OTMR process. Attaching companies will learn to work within the framework of the OTMR order and to use the established timelines to their benefit. Has OTMR accelerated broadband deployment? Up until now, the survey says no; but don’t count it out just yet.
*Although Pennsylvania and West Virginia have certified that they regulate pole attachments, they follow the FCC orders closely enough that SPANS subscribers in those states have included the OTMR workflow in their process.