The props handed out at a state Senate committee session this week were cute enough: miniature brown plastic utility poles. They were appropriate, too, since the bill senators were considering had to do with the price Georgia’s Electric Membership Cooperatives and its municipally-owned electric utilities charge cable companies to attach wires to their poles.
But the real message, from the state’s cable industry, was in the two price tags dangling from those faux poles. One showed what cable companies pay Georgia Power to attach to the poles it owns -- about $6 each. The other showed about what they pay to some EMCs -- nearly $22.
The EMC tag read: “Inflated monopoly rate”
Georgia’s 42 EMCs say their rates are fair and that the cost to build and especially to maintain the poles safely is high. Georgia Power’s attachment rates are set by the Federal Communications Commission and it must recoup costs elsewhere.
The difference has set up a battle with the Cable Television Association of Georgia. CTAG says millions of dollars are at stake and argues that development of broadband service could be stifled by high rates, particularly in rural areas. It also says operators might have to raise cable rates.
Senate Bill 328, the cable group says, would send disputes over pole attachment charges to the state’s Public Service Commission for arbitration when negotiations failed.
The bill is in the Senate Rules Committee while the two sides work to negotiate a compromise, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chip Pearson (R-Dawsonville), said Friday.
“We’re giving them an opportunity to come together as business people,” Pearson said.
And if they don’t?
“(The bill) is still there,” he said.
The EMCs say a jointly-negotiated deal to govern attachment charges -- the Model Statewide Joint Use Agreement -- already provides dispute resolution. It also calls for a base rate of about $15 per pole. Not all of the EMC’s adhere to that agreement, however, which cable interests said is part of the problem.
If negotiations lead to those EMCs signing on, the bill likely will be dropped, observers said.
“We are happy that the parties have now agreed to do everything they can to encourage their member companies to adopt this agreement, and that should eliminate the need for any legislation,” said Gary Miller, President and CEO of GreyStone Power Corporation, an EMC.
Municipals aren’t part of the model agreement, but most of the 51 members of Electric Cities of Georgia have generally followed its rate in contracts, said executive vice president Walter West. He said negotiations with CTAG continue, adding, “We recognize legislation is out there.”
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