Time Warner Cable fights rural NC co-ops on utility pole fees

Time Warner Cable says it’s being bullied by five North Carolina electric cooperatives and is accusing the rural monopolies of charging outrageous fees for letting the cable company lease space on utility poles.

Time Warner has sued the rural co-ops at the N.C. Utilities Commission, asking the commission to help resolve ongoing contract disputes over fees the co-ops charge for leasing space on some 75,000 utility poles in North Carolina. The disputes result from utility pole lease contracts that expired in recent years and are bogged down in negotiations.

Time Warner is also accusing the co-ops of stonewalling, coercion, retaliation and other strong-arm tactics. The company says the co-ops have threatened to cut off Time Warner’s electric service, threatened to impose penalties in the millions of dollars, and even threatened to call the local sheriff on a Time Warner technician performing repair work during a service outage.

“Despite TWC’s good-faith efforts to negotiate a just and reasonable rate, the parties have reached an impasse,” Time Warner said in its complaint against the South River Electric Membership Corp.

“Once cable operators have constructed their aerial networks on existing pole infrastructure,” Time Warner wrote, “they are essentially captive because it would be prohibitively expensive and impractical (or impossible) to rebuild those networks underground or to install their own poles.”

Time Warner, which was recently acquired by Charter Communications, declined to comment on its dispute. The N.C. Electric Membership Corp., the statewide trade group that’s assisting the co-ops in their negotiations, also declined to comment.

Rural co-ops typically serve several counties and are too small to generate their own power. Of the five charged by Time Warner, the biggest, EnergyUnited EMC serves 122,850 households and businesses, while Surry-Yadkin EMC serves 26,800 customers.

In an affidavit filed last month with the Utilities Commission, the co-op trade group’s general counsel, Richard Feathers, said Time Warner is the only telecommunications company in North Carolina that has contract disputes with the co-ops over utility pole attachment fees.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/article82130342.html

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