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Public Utility Districts support 5G wireless, just not on PUD ratepayer’s dime
A debate in Olympia over legislation to pave the way for the next generation of wireless service, 5G, has raised issues about the impact of the bill on PUD customer-owners. Wireless companies and cable companies want to fast track the bill but the PUD is saying “not so fast.” Recent letters to the editor in newspapers criticize PUDs for opposing the bill. In the interest of keeping our customer-owners informed of policy impacts on your PUD, we are providing our position on the bill and the projected impact.
Clallam PUD Commissioners passed a resolution at their April 3rd public meeting opposing Senate Bill 5711, not because we don’t embrace the idea of deployment of better, faster wireless service but because the legislation’s requirements would be costly for public utility district ratepayers and it provides no assurances that 5G or any other wireless or broadband services will be deployed in rural areas.
Clallam PUD has long advocated for widespread deployment of broadband services in rural areas. In 2000 Washington PUDs worked tirelessly for passage of legislation giving PUDs authority to provide wholesale telecommunications services; building the pipeline for retail service providers to serve end-users. Since the law was enacted PUDs have installed more than 6,000 miles of fiber optic cable to connect communities and serve 33,000 end users (learn more about Clallam PUD’s Broadband by clicking here). So what is not to like about this bill?
The PUD’s opposition centers on the rates determined by state law that PUDs charge for cable companies or wireless providers to attach equipment to utility poles. The bill forces PUDs to decrease what they charge for pole attachments regardless of the actual costs. It mandates a substantially lower (about 70% less) rate not just for 5G equipment but for any attachments, including existing attachments. This means not-for-profit PUDs, unable to recover costs for pole attachments, will have to subsidize private companies with ratepayer revenues. The estimated impact is over $100,000 annually to our PUD.
The lower rate is a departure from the current formula established in state law in 2008 (RCW 54.04.045) after ample discussion between all stakeholders, including PUDs and cable companies. That 2008 law is the basis for pole attachment rates that are determined to be “just, reasonable, non-discriminatory and sufficient.” The legislative intent of the law was clearly stated; to ensure PUDs do not subsidize licensees.
In addition, the bill doesn’t require deployment of 5G, a technology best suited for dense urban environments, in rural areas. All the 5G bill guarantees is that PUDs will be required to subsidize cable or wireless companies for unrecovered costs. There is nothing in the bill that assures rural areas they will ever see this technology.
Public Utility Districts recognize the value of new wireless technologies and believe that cooperative efforts between wireless providers and utilities are the best way to increase services to rural communities while paving the way for a 5G future. We continue to seek comprehensive solutions to bring advanced telecommunications services into rural communities through private and public cooperative efforts. We agree that we should embrace new and exciting technology to keep us in the forefront of innovation and efficiency, but the PUD believes a prescriptive pathway that puts the financial burden on our PUD customer-owners isn’t the answer for rural Washington.