Legislation shifting utility pole oversight from the Federal Communications Commission to the Florida Public Service Commission passed its first panel on Tuesday.
Two bills (SB 1944/HB 1567), sponsored by Wauchula Sen. Ben Albritton and Indian Rocks Beach Rep. Nick DiCeglie, both Republicans, would require the PSC to enforce rates, charges, terms and conditions for pole attachments and to resolve pole attachment disputes.
The bill outlines new rules for settling disputes, boosting grid reliability and hardening, and on redundant poles.
The FCC currently oversees many of the operations surrounding utility poles. But if PSC takes complete control under the bill, it would stop preempting private contracts. However, PSC would have the authority to settle disputes regarding those rates.
“I don’t think it’s good public policy for government, through this bill, to dictate what those terms are,” DiCeglie told the House Tourism, Infrastructure and Energy Subcommittee.
The House panel voted 16-1 to advance the proposal, with Democratic Rep. Kamia Brown casting the lone dissenting vote. She was concerned about the bill’s effects on a pending dispute between AT&T and Florida Power and Light, which could potentially have to start from scratch.
AT&T senior counsel Tracy Hatch, who signaled his opposition to parts of the legislation, said the proposal would ask PSC to develop its own rules for removing pole attachments by October. It also extended the definition of utility poles and pole hardening beyond what is necessary, he complained.
“If what you’re worried about is a pole falling over in high winds, this bill goes well beyond,” Hatch said. “It’s the ultimate micromanagement of my network because it implies that the PSC, because it is mandated to regulate, it would regulate.”
Albritton hoped to dispel concerns about onerous regulations early in his bill presentation before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee. Because PSC will write the regulations, the Senator suggested many fears were premature.
“I know that around the Capitol I’ve heard — and it’s well intentioned, I’m sure — I’ve heard about the absolute increase in some costs for somebody that’s a participant in this system,” Albritton said. “I’m not sure that’s really up for discussion today because we really don’t even know what the rules are and what the rules of engagement will be in this process.”
The committee ultimately voted 6-2 to advance the bill.
DiCeglie’s version next heads to the House Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, while Albritton’s next goes to the Senate Community Affairs Committee. Both panels would be the respective bills’ second of three committee stops.
Both versions would take effect immediately upon becoming law.