Back in 1998, California gave pole access rights to competitive carriers. With the explosion in demand for wireless broadband and the rise of 5G, California has recently expanded those access rights. The wireless companies got their pole access rights for wireless equipment in 2016. Starting at the end of this summer, competitive carriers too will have pole access rights for wireless equipment installation.

On April 27, 2018, the California Public Utilities Commission issued Decision 18-04-007, which amends the Right-of-Way Rules (ROW Rules) to provide competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) with expanded nondiscriminatory access to public utility infrastructure for the purpose of installing antennas and other wireless telecommunications equipment. The amended ROW Rules go into effect August 24, 2018. Here are the key provisions:

  • Fees and Charges. The 7.4 percent per-foot fee will apply to (i) all CLEC wireless facilities, including fixed wireless facilities; and (2) a CLEC’s wireline facilities attached to the same pole as the CLEC’s own wireless facilities. The 7.4 percent per-pole fee will continue to apply to a CLEC’s wireline facilities that are not attached to the same poles as the CLEC’s own wireless facilities.
  • Limitations on Facilities. While the Decision is clear that “CLEC telecommunications facilities…may be used to provide other services (e.g., wireless broadband service),” the Decision also states that use “is limited to facilities that are necessary or useful for the provision of the telecommunications services…The ROW Rules do not apply to facilities that are wholly unrelated to the provision of such telecommunications services.” So, for CLECs seeking to attach wireless facilities pursuant to this decision, there must be some relationship between the installation and provision of telecommunications service.
  • Requisite Authorization. The Decision makes clear that facilities-based CLECs do not need new authority for wireless attachments, stating (1) “amending the ROW Rules to encompass all CLEC wireless telecommunications facilities does not necessitate a new requirement in the ROW Rules that CLECs’ CPCNs must include explicit authorization for wireless facilities;” and (2) “it is not necessary for CLECs to possess a [Wireless Identification Registration] in order to obtain nondiscriminatory access to public utility infrastructure for the purpose of installing CLEC wireless telecommunications facilities.”

This change to the ROW Rules is a big step forward for wireless deployment in California, but it’s yet to be seen how the rules will play out in practice. For example, electric utilities played a significant role in the proceeding, and it’s feasible that CLECs may encounter resistance regarding, rate calculations, types of services provided, or other issues, as they negotiate licensing agreements with the electric utilities. For now, CLECs can celebrate their new rights of access.