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CWA urges FCC to deny industry attempts to loosen pole attachment standards

CWA submitted comments urging the FCC to reject a proposal by the cable industry association NCTA to further loosen rules governing pole attachment work and allow third parties and their contractors to work on the poles, jeopardizing public safety and good-paying union jobs.

In the comments, CWA outlines the danger of the proposal, which would eliminate critical oversight of make-ready work by shortening some work completion timeframes and further shift responsibility for pole attachment work from those who are best qualified—the highly-skilled employees of communications service providers and electric utilities—to lower-wage third-party attachers and their contractors.

“Unionized employees of communications service providers and electric utilities covered by long-standing collective bargaining agreements are best positioned to perform this work due to institutional knowledge of the network and equipment and robust training and safety processes,” wrote Nell Geiser, Director of Research at CWA, in the Union’s comments. “In addition, collective bargaining agreements provide higher wages than contractors and community-sustaining benefits.” 

CWA, which represents telecommunications workers across the US, has long been outspoken about the dangerous implications of relying on inadequately trained, contracted labor in the telecom industry and the issue of prioritizing speed over safety. Shoddy pole attachment work can cause facility damage, service interruption, and dangerous conditions for workers and the public, such as exposed or hanging wires, creating electrocution risks. In addition, incorrect placement or overloading equipment on damaged poles can result in poles, wires, or equipment falling into private property or the public right-of-way. Meanwhile, it has become increasingly difficult for pole owners to contact contractors when issues arise with pole attachments, leaving the pole owner responsible for fixing the shoddy work.

In addition to safety concerns, telecom companies hiring contractors incentivizes a race-to-the-bottom approach that accelerates wage stagnation. CWA is concerned that telecommunications providers would use proposed changes to avoid compliance with collectively bargained contracts that require such work to be done by an in-house workforce. For this reason, CWA recommends the FCC establish a robust penalty mechanism to hold pole owners accountable for their failure to review and respond to applications. CWA disagrees with the industry claims of telecommunications workforce shortages as major telecommunications companies have laid off or reduced their frontline workforces by tens of thousands of employees in recent years, most of whom are technicians.

Pole attachment work should be left to skilled, properly trained workers who know the equipment, the condition of the poles, and the rules regulating attachment placement.


Communications Workers of America calls on FCC to prioritize worker and public safety, deny NCTA proposal to further loosen rules for pole attachment work (CWA, Feb. 13, 2024) 

Comments of CWA in FCC Docket 17-84 (CWA, Feb. 13, 2024)