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The Connecticut's Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) is considering a plan to centralize management of utility poles in the state.
Currently, management of utility poles is split between AT&T and the state's electric utilities. But the two dominant utilities, Connecticut Light & Power (C&LP) and The United Illuminating Co. (UI), are proposing a plan in which they would solely manage the poles.
PURA held a hearing on the proposal at its headquarters in New Britain. Consumer Counsel, Elin Swanson Katz, said she supports the proposal UI and CL&P have put forth.
"The Consumer Counsel believes that this new process will result in a more informal and expedited process to resolve or even prevent rights-of-way disputes from arising by virtue of a transparent, equitable and efficient attachment process," Katz said in a statement.
Katz continued, "It is clear based on the evidence thus far presented to PURA over the course of several years of investigation, that the appointment of a single pole administrator could facilitate coordination during both storms and on blue sky' days, and create a single point of contact for pole administration issues."
"It is thus urgent that this new management process for streamlining attachments to utility poles across this state be implemented on schedule in order to put Connecticut at the vanguard of all states in removing hurdles to competitive entry and making restoration of utility services the most efficient in the nation," the statement said.
Katz says the plan is something her office has supported for years, in part because it could expedite pole repair and replacement.
"We live in a state and in a time that demands fast fast changes, fast implementation, and a nimble government that can respond swiftly and fairly to changing conditions, whether they be massive storms or surging demand for increasing internet bandwidth, or a town's desire to create wireless zones, all of which involve poles and wires and public rights of way," Katz said.
Mitch Gross, a CL&P spokesman, said that CL&P and AT&T "share ownership of over 733,000 utility poles across the 149 towns and cities that we serve in Connecticut."
"We agree with the OCC that a single administrator would improve the process for repairing and maintaining the poles and would benefit CL&P customers because a single administrator would mean one-stop shopping' for utility pole issues," Gross said. "We filed a proposal on this matter in May and we look forward to PURA's decision."
Michael West, a UI spokesman, said the mega-storms of 2011 and 2012 illustrated the value of having a single point of contact. UI and AT&T share ownership of 129,000 utility poles, West said.
"I want to emphasize that we work closely with AT&T and that during the storms, we had a representative of theirs in our operations center," he said. "But we would be able to address repairs or replacement of the poles that much more quickly if there was sole ownership."