Legislature passes bill to centralize utility pole oversight
Photo via FMEA Facebook.

KISSIMEE UTILITY AUTHORITY_LINEMAN
The bill potentially concerns AT&T and Florida Power and Light.

With the House’s vote Wednesday, a bill to give Florida control of utility pole oversight is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ desk.

The House voted 114-3 to pass the bill (SB 1944) to shift utility pole oversight from the Federal Communications Commission to the Florida Public Service Commission. That proposal, 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.

Democratic Reps. Anna V. EskamaniJoy Goff-Marcil and Omari Hardy cast the lone no votes. No member debated the measure.

The bill, which passed the Senate by a 38-2 vote on Monday over opposition from Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson and Republican Sen. Ed Hooper, 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.

There are two current Florida disputes being reviewed by the FCC, between AT&T and Florida Power and Light. Both, though, are expected to be concluded before any Florida legislation could take effect.

The legislation also would give Florida broader control over the telecommunications industry’s service distribution systems.

During the committee process, AT&T senior counsel Tracy Hatch signaled his opposition to parts of the bill, and 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.

Power companies appear to support the idea while telecommunications companies oppose it.

Both industries are trying to get away from use of poles in Florida anyway. Two years ago the Florida Legislature approved a law requiring power utilities to bury their lines over the next 30 years, to harden Florida’s power grid against storm damage. Telecommunications companies are moving more toward satellite and tower transmissions to distribute broadband signals.

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Florida Politics reporter Scott Powers contributed to this report.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.



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