On May 1, 2014, the California Public Utilities Commission (“PUC”)  opened a  Rulemaking to consider if its existing rules for nondiscriminatory access to utility poles, ducts, conduits, and rights-of-way should be amended to encompass Commercial Mobile Radio Service (“CMRS”) carriers. The rulemaking was commenced  pursuant to a Petition filed by AT&T Mobility, claiming that because the benefits and protections of the PUC’s existing rules do not currently apply to wireless attachments, AT&T has experienced service barriers in California due to the “lack of reliable, timely, and affordable access to physical infrastructure – particularly utility poles …”  AT&T urged the PUC to conform to federal pole attachment law, which it argues clearly covers wireless attachments, including  pole top antennas. 

The PUC agreed with AT&T that “CMRS carriers have a right under federal law and FCC regulations to nondiscriminatory pole attachments except in situations where there is insufficient capacity, adverse effects on safety or reliability, and/or engineering constraints.” The PUC  also explained that there are public interest reasons to provide CMRS carriers with nondiscriminatory access to pole and that “[a]dopting rules that enable CMRS carriers to obtain nondiscriminatory pole attachments may facilitate competitive entry, spur investment in wireless infrastructure, and ultimately help to achieve the State of California’s ambitious goals for telecommunications services, particularly broadband.”

The Rulemaking will consider whether and how the existing rules should be amended to encompass CMRS carriers. The PUC will soon release a Scoping Memo on the Rulemaking setting forth the procedural schedule and the specific matters to be considered.