On January 22, 2020, the Michigan House of Representatives, by a vote of 105-1, passed HB 4266 (Easement Clarification) and HB 5266 (Pole Attachment Standardization). The Michigan Electric Cooperative Association (MECA) has been quietly working on these bills for the past year. By the time you read this, I anticipate that they will be out of the Senate and signed by the Governor.

The Easement Clarification bill (4266) puts into state statute electric cooperative use of existing easements for broadband (fiber optic cable) communication purposes. Cooperatives in other states have been involved in major lawsuits after installing broadband cable on existing poles while using easements that did not contain communication as an authorized function of the easement. Michigan electric cooperatives that desire to become providers of fiber services can now do so within existing electric easements without fear of a lawsuit.

The Pole Attachment Standardization bill (5266), a compromise with the telecom industry, simply requires a standardized approach and fee calculation for electric cooperative pole attachments. Said another way, Verizon and AT&T in Michigan wanted one uniform system and cost structure when they installed wire and hardware onto electric cooperative poles.

What do these bills mean for every member of Cherryland? Most importantly, your cooperative has no plans to get into the fiber-to-the-home business. We do have plans to facilitate the installation of fiber onto our electric distribution system with any viable private entity willing to provide the service. Our territory is largely served by companies already in the broadband communication business. This legislation will make it easier for us to help those companies wanting to expand into the unserved areas of our service territory.

The new statutes will require compliance with the National Electric Safety Code (NESC). The NESC clearly defines what is communications space and what is electric space on an overhead power line. Any future sharing on overhead lines will be done in a safe and uniform manner.

The legislation is clear about preventing material impact to an individual’s property. This simply means that the hanging of fiber below the electric wire that crosses your property cannot reduce your property value. So, please put the visions of a spider’s web of wires traversing across your view out of your mind. We have shared communication space with cable TV providers (who had their own easements) for decades. Any future fiber installation should not look much different.

MECA, an association owned by every electric cooperative in Michigan, did a great job getting the support necessary for passage from AT&T, Telecommunications Association of Michigan, Frontier Communications, Comcast, the Michigan Public Service Commission, the Michigan Farm Bureau and the Michigan Cable Television Association. MECA also successfully lobbied legislators on both sides of the aisle as they shepherded these bills through the legislative process.

One legislator from our service territory and another from a neighboring legislative district championed these bills in Lansing. Locally, Senator Wayne Schmidt from the 37th Senate District was our lead in that chamber. On the other side of the capitol building in Lansing, House Majority Leader Representative Triston Cole of District 105 did a great job advocating on behalf of the electric cooperatives.

This change may not seem significant when Cherryland is not getting into the broadband business. I would make the point that they could be very important to a future that is often hard to predict. It’s better to have a valuable tool in the box before any future project is delayed because the item we need to start a large project can’t be found.