Thursday, February 01, 2007

AT&T, Locals, Cable, and More Gummint Greed

Who owns the telephone poles?

Who "owns" the right-of-way?

Way back when, before Noah floated his boat, Wisconsin Electric Power Company put up poles which carried wires which carried electric current. Wisconsin Telephone Company agreed to use WEPCo's poles.

People (taxpayers!) who purchase electricity and telephone service eventually paid for all those damn poles.

"Right-of-way" is a concession made by people (taxpayers!) to their local Gummint. The right-of-way is there for the common good; it may be used for civic improvements. But the property-owner (taxpayer!!) maintains the right-of-way. They clear the sidewalks, if any. They mow the grass, if any. No municipality spends its money on the "right-of-way" on a day-to-day basis.

By and by, Wisconsin Telephone Company became AT&T. All those poles which ratepayers (taxpayers!!) paid for over these many years, and which AT&T and WEPCo (now Weenergies) maintain with ratepayer (taxpayer!!!) and shareholder (taxpayer!!!) moneys are still out there.

But suddenly, some municipalities think that THEY should derive revenues from the existence of those telephone poles and rights-of-way. Guaranteed revenues. From (are you ready for this?) guess who???

The Taxpayer!! who, after all, pays the Gummint's extortions through Rates!!

Of all the entities on Earth who deserve revenues from utility poles, the LAST ONE is your local Gummint. The very last.



John Foust said...

The taxpayers handed out plenty of subsidy to those telecom companies way back when, too. The gummint granted them a monopoly and they gave our parents universal reliable service. Today we pay extra to have a cell phone with far less reliability.

Your argument reminds me a bit of seniors who think that by virtue of having paid taxes all their lives, they have somehow accrued an extra residual retirement account. I think it's more reasonable to suggest that we all pay taxes to cover present-day government services. Those telephone poles didn't replace themselves. Nor did yesteryear's payments cover last week's repairs.

Local governments are in charge of the oversight of those right-of-ways. Who gets paid to make sure the next backhoe doesn't sever cables or pipes? Who gets paid to make sure it's done safely? Who's responsible when that maintenance goes wrong? Would you prefer to plea to City Hall or to Madison when AT&T puts a fridge-sized box in the right-of-way at the corner where your kids cross every day?

Mind you, those state legislators writing today's cable competition bill knew better than to slaughter the golden calf. The new bill preserves franchise fees (this tax you're talking about) as-is.

The situation may actually be more complicated in some cities. In mine, we have a locally-owned water and electric utility. Charter Cable actually pays them a separate fee to use their poles, beyond the franchise fee.

Dad29 said...

If you're trying to persuade me that the locals deserve 5% of the revenues by virtue of their "safekeeping" activities, you will not succeed.

BTW, taxpayers do not pay ONLY for "present services." They also pay for pensions which were, ah, artistically created and were not carefully accounted for. Same-o for health insurance premiums for many retirees of munis, counties, and school districts.

And yes, the State will roll over and give away 5%. After all, it's not THEIR money.