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BILL AS PASSED HOUSE AND SENATE 2007-2008

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H.881

AN ACT RELATING TO THE ROLE OF ELECTRIC AND GAS UTILITIES IN FACILITATING THE DEPLOYMENT OF COMMUNICATIONS FACILITIES THROUGHOUT THE STATE

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  FINDINGS AND PURPOSE

The general assembly finds that:

(1)  As found in 30 V.S.A. § 8060(a)(1):  “The availability of mobile telecommunications and broadband services is essential for promoting the economic development of the state, the education of its young people and life‑long learning, the delivery of cost-effective health care, the public safety, and the ability of citizens to participate fully in society and civic life.”

(2)  Electric and gas companies have networks that extend throughout the state.  Some of these networks can be leveraged to improve the economics of deploying mobile telecommunications and broadband service throughout the state.

(3)  Electric and gas companies hold easements that allow for specific utility use, but certain of these easements may not allow for the attachment or the installation of communications facilities.

(4)  Therefore, the goals of the general assembly in this act are to ensure that electric and gas utilities allow and enable access to their facilities and easements to communications companies as a necessary element of serving the public good in a flexible manner that is fair to both the utilities’ ratepayers and customers of communications service providers.

Sec. 2.  30 V.S.A. chapter 92 is added to read:

CHAPTER 92.  ACCESS FOR THE INSTALLATION AND MAINTENANCE OF COMMUNICATIONS FACILITIES

§ 8090.  DEFINITIONS

For the purposes of this chapter:

(1)  “Communications facilities” shall mean facilities that are used to send and receive audio, images, data, or other information via any electromagnetic media, including wires, cables, microwaves, radio waves, light waves, or any combination of these or similar media.

(2)  “Communications service provider” shall mean the Vermont telecommunications authority, a company subject to the jurisdiction of the public service board under subdivision 203(5) or section 502 of this title, or a broadband service provider who is considered to be an “attaching entity” pursuant to subsection 209(g) of this title.

(3)  “Company” or “companies” shall mean an electric or gas utility subject to the jurisdiction of the public service board.


§ 8091.  ACCESS TO FACILITIES

(a)  Any company shall allow and enable access to its plant and equipment where possible for the installation and maintenance of communications facilities by communications service providers.

(b)  When constructing or substantially reconstructing lines or structures used for electric or gas transmission or electric distribution, a company shall allow for the construction and maintenance of communications facilities thereupon if requested by a communications service provider.

(c)  Access and services required by this section shall be subject to regulation by the public service board and department of public service and shall be offered on rates, terms, and conditions, including terms of ownership of facilities, established in section 8092 of this chapter, except that services under tariffs developed pursuant to public service board rules regarding pole attachments shall be governed by those rules.

(d)  Owners of self-generation facilities, those not connected to the electric grid and net-metered generators, shall not be obligated to comply with this section.

(e)  If a communications service provider requests services from a company pursuant to this title, then the communications service provider shall be responsible for all of the costs the company incurs to obtain any easements or limited rights in property necessary to provide those services to the communications service provider, including compensation, legal fees, and the administrative costs of the utility.

§ 8092.  RATES; TERMS; CONDITIONS

(a)  Any company providing electric or gas service under public service board jurisdiction pursuant to this title shall prepare and file with the public service board, with a copy provided to the commissioner of the department of public service and the director for public advocacy, a statement of generally available rates, terms, and conditions for attachments and installations required under section 8091 of this chapter.  The nature and specificity of such statement may take into account the nature and size of the company, an assessment of the types of communications facilities for which requests are most likely, and such other factors as necessary to ensure that the rates, terms, and conditions set forth in the statement are sufficiently flexible to meet the capacities of the company, the interests of the company’s ratepayers, and the goal of facilitating broadband and wireless service.

(b)  The department and the board shall review the statement of generally available rates, terms, and conditions filed by each company.  In the event that the board or the department has grounds to believe that the rates, terms, or conditions are not just and reasonable, the board may open an investigation into the statement.  In the absence of an investigation, or while such an investigation is pending, the company’s filed statement of rates, terms, and conditions shall take effect or shall remain in effect without requiring the approval of the board.  Changes to any company’s filed statement of rates, terms, and conditions shall not take effect until 45 days after the statement has been filed with the board and the department.

(c)  In the event of a board investigation into a company’s statement of rates, terms, and conditions pursuant to this chapter, the board may alter or change the rates, terms, or conditions in effect for attachments and installations after notice and hearing, upon a finding that the company’s rates, terms, or conditions are not just and reasonable.  In making its determination, the board shall consider evidence that may be presented regarding the commercial reasonableness of the rates given the local market and the public interest in reasonable rates for electric or gas service and availability of communications services in the state.  Any change in rates, terms, and conditions required as a result of a board investigation shall be effective as of the date of the board’s order without any refund.

(d)  The statement shall include rates, terms, and conditions for services for which the company may reasonably expect to receive requests, including at a minimum:

(1)  For wireline communications facilities:

(A)  Attachment of communications facilities to electric transmission facilities and maintenance of these communications facilities.

(B)  Contribution to construction for communications facilities installed concurrently with the construction or reconstruction of electric and gas company facilities when requested by a communications service provider.

(2)  For wireless communication facilities:

(A)  Attachment of communications facilities to electric transmission and generation facilities and maintenance of these communications facilities.

(B)  Contribution to construction for communications facilities installed concurrently with the construction or reconstruction of electric company facilities when requested by a communications service provider.

(e)  Rates, terms, and conditions for contributions to construction and for maintenance of communications facilities installed concurrently when companies are constructing or substantially reconstructing electric transmission or distribution lines or structures or gas transmission lines shall be based on the incremental cost of adding the communications facility to the project, as long as the communications facilities will provide service in the municipality in which they are located and surrounding municipalities.

(f)  The company may negotiate rates, terms, and conditions of service that deviate from the statement of rates, terms, and conditions on file, but the company may not refuse a request to provide service in accordance with the rates, terms, and conditions on file.  Section 229 of this title does not apply to deviations from the statement of rates, terms, and conditions, unless a company provides service pursuant to this chapter to an affiliate of the company that is not an electric or gas utility. 

(g)  Companies with facilities meeting the requirements of this section shall submit their statement of rates, terms, and conditions within 150 days of the date of the enactment of this legislation.

(h)  A company may limit wireline attachments on electric transmission structures exclusively carrying voltages of 110 kV or higher to fiber-optic facilities attached and maintained by the company, if the company allows communications service providers to use fiber-optic facilities installed and maintained by the company and offers to install such fiber-optic facilities on such electric transmission structures where there are not sufficient facilities for use by communications service providers.  Rates, terms, and conditions for access to such company-attached and company-maintained facilities shall be made available consistent with the requirements of this section.

(i)  The public service board may establish rules to implement this chapter.  Such rules may include default rates, terms, and conditions to implement subsections (c) and (h) of this section.  As part of the implementation of this chapter, the board shall establish rules to require, to the extent the board is not preempted, communications providers to extend their facilities as far as the board’s authority permits.


§ 8093.  NOTIFICATION

(a)  For cases of gas transmission projects, and for projects involving electric transmission lines requiring approval pursuant to section 248 of this title, companies shall provide notice to the Vermont telecommunications authority at the same time that they provide notice pursuant to subdivision 248(a)(4)(C) of this title.

(b)  In cases of projects involving electric transmission or distribution lines which do not require approval pursuant to section 248 of this title, and which are greater than 2,500 feet, companies under the jurisdiction of the public service board shall notify the Vermont telecommunications authority of the project at least 90 days prior to planned commencement of construction for company-initiated projects, or as soon as possible for customer-initiated projects or projects required for urgent reasons of service quality or reliability.

(c)  The notice shall include:

(1)  The location of the project, including the town and a description of the route to be followed;

(2)  The nature of the project;

(3)  The date the project is planned to commence;

(4)  The contact person for the project and his or her contact information.

(d)  For good cause shown by a company, the public service board may shorten or eliminate the notice period required under this section.

(e)  In the alternative to filing notice under subsection (b) of this section, a company may file with the public service board, the department of public service, and the Vermont telecommunications authority its capital plan or construction work plan, describing the location of linear projects which do not require approval pursuant to section 248 of this title, and in the case of a

multi-year plan, the year in which a linear project is scheduled to commence.  No construction called for under the capital plan or construction work plan shall commence until the plan has been on file for at least 90 days, unless the construction is required for customer-initiated projects or for urgent reasons of service quality or reliability.

(f)  A company may specify in its statement of rates, terms, and conditions a deadline or procedure for requests to attach or add communications facilities to a project.  Unless otherwise specified by the company in its statement of rates, terms, and conditions, a company shall provide a period for responses of not less than either 45 days after notice is provided, if the company provides notice pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, or 45 days before the planned construction commences, if the company provides notice pursuant to subsection (e) of this section.  If a company does not receive a response by the deadline or according to the procedure established for responding to the notice required by this section, it may commence construction of a project prior to the end of the notice period required under subsection (b) or (e) of this section.

§ 8094.  EVALUATION OF COMMERCIAL WIRELESS NETWORKS

(a)  No company subject to public service board jurisdiction and providing electric service shall begin construction of a two-way point-to-multipoint mobile wireless communication network for the purpose of communication between its facilities for its own personnel unless:

(1)  The company has solicited proposals from commercial wireless service providers; and

(2)  For solicitations issued after July 1, 2008, the company has provided notice prior to the solicitation to the Vermont telecommunications authority and to the commissioner of the department of public service and the director for public advocacy.

(b)  Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize or disallow the costs of such a network for the purpose of a rate proceeding for the company.

§ 8095.  LIMITATION

Nothing in this chapter limits the existing rights and obligations of entities currently authorized to attach to poles and other facilities pursuant to board rule 3.700. 

§ 8096.  LEGISLATIVE INTENT

The general assembly intends that this chapter will result in improved and increased access to mobile telecommunications and broadband services for all underserved Vermont households and businesses.

Sec. 3.  30 V.S.A. § 110a is added to read:

§ 110a. INCLUSION OF COMMUNICATIONS FACILITIES

When a gas or electric utility subject to the jurisdiction of the board files a petition to condemn an easement or limited right in property, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that access to the utility’s facilities provided pursuant to chapter 92 of this title shall be a necessary component of the utility’s rendering of adequate service to the public.

Sec. 4.  30 V.S.A. § 111a is added to read:

§ 111a.  PREEXISTING UTILITY LINES

(a)  When a corporation seeks to condemn property or an easement or other right over property where a currently existing utility line capable of operating at 100 kilovolts or less that has not been abandoned and was in place on July 1, 1993, there is a rebuttable presumption that the condemnation of the property right authorizing the existing utility line or lines is necessary in order that the petitioner may render service to the public, provided that the property right is limited to that which is required to allow the operation, maintenance, and repair of the existing line or lines, and does not (1) significantly alter the capabilities or capacity of the line or lines, (2) materially alter the degree of land use associated with the presence of the line or lines, and (3) authorize the company to perform replacements or upgrades that would have a significant impact under the criteria set forth in section 248 of this title. 

(b)  When a corporation seeks to condemn property or establish an easement or other right over property where a utility line, that has not been abandoned, was in place on July 1, 1993, the corporation shall present a petition to the public service board and to the department of public service describing the property or right, and why the action is necessary.  The property or right shall be limited to that which is required to allow the operation, maintenance, and repair of the existing line or lines, subject to the limitations set forth in subsection (a) of this section.  The board shall issue a citation upon each person whose property or right the petitioner proposes to condemn and each municipality and each planning body where the property is located, or on absent persons in such manner as the supreme court may by rule provide for service of process in civil actions, including by publication. 

(c)  Upon the filing of the petition with the board and department, any pending actions and proceedings against the petitioner affecting its right to use and enjoy the subject property are stayed for the pendency of the condemnation proceeding before the board, and the petitioner may enter upon the property to be condemned for the purposes of examination and obtaining necessary information in order to proceed with the taking and to conduct the minimum amount of maintenance and repairs necessary to provide service.

(d)  The board shall fix the time and the place for hearing.

(e)  If the utility line for which the corporation seeks to acquire easements through condemnation under this section crosses more than one property, the corporation may petition the board to hold a single hearing to determine necessity for all persons subject to condemnation under subsection (b) of this section.

(f)  A person owning or having an interest in lands or rights to be taken may stipulate as to the necessity of the taking.  The stipulation shall be filed with the board.  The board shall issue an order on necessity within 45 days upon receiving the stipulation.

(g)  A stipulation under subsection (f) of this section shall be accompanied by an affidavit sworn to before a person authorized to take acknowledgments.  The stipulation shall include the following:

(1)  a recital that the person or persons executing the stipulation have examined the proposed easement, which includes a description of the property or rights to be taken; and

(2)  an explanation of the legal and property rights affected.

(h)  If a hearing is required, the board shall hear all persons whose property or right is the subject of the condemnation petition and who wish to be heard at the time and place appointed for the hearing.  The board shall make findings of fact, and by its order, determine whether necessity requires the taking of the land and rights as set forth in the petition.

(i)  Following a determination of necessity pursuant to subsection (f) or (h) of this section, the board shall expeditiously appoint a time and place for examining the premises and provide an opportunity for a hearing on the issue of compensation, giving at least 10 days’ notice in writing to the persons that are subject to the condemnation petition.

(j)  There shall be rebuttable presumptions that compensation for the taking or use of property rights under the provision of this section shall be the diminution of value caused by the existence of such utility lines across the property at the time the petition was filed with the board and that, where a property owner acquired the property with the utility line already in place, the diminution in value was reflected in the terms of acquiring the property.  Upon rebuttal of either of these presumptions under the standard set forth in subsection (m) of this section, the board shall determine compensation pursuant to the criteria established by subdivision 112(3) of this title.

(k)(1)  When the board renders judgment, it shall send by registered mail to each of the parties in interest or their attorneys, within 30 days thereafter, a certified copy of such judgment.  If the judgment is in favor of the petitioner, the board, in the same manner, shall send to such parties a certified copy of the findings which shall include a description of the property or right to be condemned.  The petitioner shall cause a certified copy of the judgment and findings to be recorded in the clerk’s office of the town or towns in which such property is located within 30 days after the clerk receives the copies.

(2)  Upon the payment or deposit of the amounts awarded by the board, with interest, in accordance with its order, the petitioner shall be the owner of the property or right described in the findings.  However, when an appeal is taken as provided in section 12 of this title, such ownership shall be an equitable title only with right of possession until the judgment of the supreme court is complied with.

(l)  Section 112 of this title does not apply to petitions filed under this section except as provided in subsection (j) of this section.  An appeal or review relating to an action under this section shall be to the supreme court pursuant to section 12 of this title.

(m)  The presumptions arising under subsections (a) and (j) of this section shall operate in accordance with the provisions of Vermont Rule of Evidence 301(a).  These presumptions shall shift only the burden of production, and shall lose their effect as soon as any evidence to support a finding of the nonexistence of the presumed fact is introduced.

(n)  Nothing in this section shall impact any permitting or regulatory requirements that may apply to the corporation.


Sec. 5.  INVESTIGATION INTO SUBSTATION NETWORKS

The public service board shall conduct an investigation into the benefits and costs of construction of fiber-optic or other telecommunications facility networks linking electric company substations and submit a report to the committees of jurisdiction of the general assembly on or before January 15, 2009.  In addition to other information it deems appropriate, the public service board shall require from each electric company an analysis of the likely cost of connecting its substations with fiber-optic facilities and other alternative means, and the benefits to electric company operations, including benefits for system management and reliability.  If it finds good cause to do so, the board may excuse companies without more than one substation and companies which have already connected all company substations with fiber-optic facilities.  In the event that the public service board determines that the benefit of such a network exceeds its costs, it shall recommend an implementation schedule for construction of such a network and include the schedule in its report.  The board may issue an implementation schedule for individual companies prior to January 15, 2009.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us