Middle Tennessee co-op, Comcast settle pole attachment squabble

Comcast Center

With one day to spare before having equipment yanked off utility poles in Franklin and Moore counties, Comcast on Thursday ponied up the money the Duck River Electric Membership Corporation said the internet and cable giant owed in utility pole attachment fees.

But Comcast officials weren't happy about it.

"To avoid an interruption of service, Comcast has once again agreed to pay Duck River significantly more than what is owed under our current contract, despite Duck River's refusal to negotiate reasonable terms," said Alex Horwitz, vice president of public relations at Comcast.

Duck River officials threatened earlier in the week to remove Comcast equipment from the co-op's utility poles, claiming the cable and internet company was behind on its attachment fees.

The Middle Tennessee electric co-op also threatened to cut power to Comcast, which would have resulted in around 7,000 Comcast customers losing service.

The two had a similar run-in over pole fees back in 2014.

Comcast officials say Duck River is gouging the cable and internet giant.

"Unfortunately, the utility has been unwilling to compromise and has billed Comcast for arbitrary pole rates that are nearly three times the national average," said Horwitz.

Steve Oden, director of member services at Duck River, said he couldn't answer Comcast's math on national averages, but he said all utilities leasing space on Duck River utility poles pay "just about the same," and Comcast isn't being singled out.

He pointed out that no other internet or TV provider has taken issue with the attachment fees. Oden said Duck River is simply treating Comcast the way Comcast would treat any of its customers.

"If you don't pay your Comcast cable TV or internet bill, they're going to do what?" he asked.

The answer, Oden said, is they "cut you off."

"Size-wise, they're the Godzilla of telecommunications," he said. "And we're just a lowly electric co-op here in Middle Tennessee."

The Federal Communications Commission lays out complicated formulas for calculating utility pole attachment rates. The formulas have been the subject of revisions and petitions in recent years even at the FCC level, with the authority releasing a clarification only last February about utility pole fees.

While settling the score between them at the midnight hour this time around, both Duck River and Comcast officials talked about a long-term agreement for pole usage rates going forward.

Horwitz said Comcast has been trying to land a long-term deal for years.

"Since 2012, Comcast has attempted to negotiate in good faith a new pole agreement with Duck River," he said.

Oden said the same of Duck River.

"This is the last time, I hope," he said.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.