It’s Time Connecticut Ratepayers Got A Seat At The Regulatory Table

This is an op-ed I wrote for about my longstanding issues with my utility companies here in Connecticut. The following idea came as a direct result of my most recent experience after a telephone pole caught fire at the end of my road. I’m hoping our legislature makes this change in their coming session:

I’ve long been a critic of my local utility monopolies because they’ve put their profits ahead of serving customers and taxpayers. Over the last couple of decades as regulations eased, utilities reduced staff and deferred maintenance resulting in several week-long outages and reliability issues across Connecticut.

Meanwhile, electricity monopoly Eversource enjoys billion-dollar net profit margins, money that comes from consumers who have little choice but to pay whatever rates they decide to charge irrespective of the quality of service being offered. Their corporate culture was on full display at a 2020 hearing when former Eversource CEO Jim Judge ranked shareholders as his top priority above customers and ratepayers.

Progress is being made, however. Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), which allowed these reductions in service quality for many years, is finally starting to turn the page and hold utilities accountable. Additionally the recently enacted “Take Back our Grid Act” is another set of accountability measures that can begin to roll back decades of customer neglect.

But PURA’s staffing levels haven’t increased despite these new tools, making it difficult for the authority to document examples of local deficiencies that could lead to enforcement action. But there is an existing mechanism that can help provide PURA those “eyes and ears” on the ground: local Cable Television Advisory Councils.

Decades ago when legislators grew tired of dealing with constituent complaints about cable television service, they created this local council structure that meets regularly with cable television company officials to work out problems before issues rise to regulatory action. Members are appointed by local municipalities and boards of education.

The councils still exist today but their regulatory authority is limited only to cable television and not any of the other utilities that benefit and profit from poles and wiring conduits running on public and private right-of-ways.

It’s time to modernize this advisory council structure and extend its advisory authority to any utility that makes use of poles and conduits in a community. Irrespective of whether the service is regulated, the use of public rights of way to deliver services is a regulated activity.

Extending this oversight authority will cost the state nothing beyond what it’s already doing to support these councils and will help PURA exercise the new regulatory powers granted to them in recent legislation. But, more importantly, this will provide an opportunity for utilities to build productive relationships with local customers and hopefully prevent regulatory action from taking place at all.

While utilities could choose not to attend these local council meetings it would most certainly be in their interest to be there and listen to customers and officials about local concerns. And if a resolution is not possible locally, the council could, through PURA, initiate regulatory dockets for enforcement such as they have with the cable companies for decades.

I have no doubt the utilities will oppose any additional oversight of their businesses. But they no longer have the trust of the public and it’s time to create a process to re-establish relationships and refocus their efforts on those who matter: us.

Making Progress on Deficient Connecticut Utility Poles

As the saga of deficient utility poles in my town continues I’m pleased to say that some progress has been made!

First the roped together pole at the end of my road was fixed – it likely would not have been had I not raised a stink. I learned that the only thing the power company does to coordinate with the other companies is put the pole in a database. No phone calls, no other coordination.

I’ve since been passing information about other deficient poles over to our state regulator. A few of the worst offenders have already been addressed but they still have a lot of work to do.

So far Frontier the phone company dealt with this tri-pole monstrosity that was blighting my beautiful small town for years:

Frontier also addressed a very dangerous looking strapped together pole that was looming over main street. This one had been like this for the better part of two or three years. They recently put new fiber on the pole even though it was about to fall into the road!

What is clear throughout this mess is that the utilities are not coordinating with each other on pole replacements. Wouldn’t it make more sense to get everyone on site and do it at once? Sure, but only if customers mattered to these monopolies.

The utility companies of course cry poverty complaining they can’t possibly fix all of these problems and meet their minimum guaranteed profits. But if they addressed these issues when they happen vs. letting them rot for years they wouldn’t have the deferred maintenance. This issue also exposes how utility companies have gutted their workforce and rely mostly on contractors to do the bare minimum maintenance required.

I’m working on an op-ed with some solutions that I think will light a fire under utilities to refocus their attention on customers. Stay tuned!

One Pole Fixed, Many More to Go

Following my appearance on Fox 61 last night, Eversource and Frontier came out first thing this morning to resolve the broken utility pole that was the subject of Monday’s Wrap-up video. See the Fox piece here.

While it’s good this issue is resolved my community is unfortunately still littered with blighted, neglected poles all over the place. Today Frontier is in the neighborhood running new fiber and is attaching their new cables to old poles – this even when a new pole is standing right next to it.

The battle is won here, but we have a long way to go to get these companies to prioritize customers over shareholders.

Fox 61 Covers my Utility Pole Woes

My local fox affiliate, Fox 61, covered my woes related to the condition of utility poles in my neighborhood. You can see it here.

While the linesmen did great work getting the pole that caught fire rebuilt quickly my issue is that their management did not coordinate with the other utilities to find a timely resolution to the problem.

Comcast did get their portion fixed after they saw one of my Tweets, but I think it’s clear that if they’re finding out about this from Twitter nobody from Eversource ever reached out to them. Apparently Eversource uses some kind of software package as opposed to actually picking up a phone and coordinating. Once I heard back from Comcast they came out over night to reattach the cables.

Frontier had their contractors running fiber in the neighborhood today but they did not reattach their cables. I think tomorrow they’ll be working their way towards the area where their wires are hanging so I’m eager to see what unfolds there.

Opining on Deficient Utility Poles in my Neighborhood

Those of you who read my blog or subscribe to my email newsletter already know about the condition my local power company Eversource left Comcast’s fiber optic cables in the other day. Eversource replaced a broken utility pole but cut out the portions of the old pole where the communications cables were attached. They then tied that remaining portion of the old pole to the new pole with a rope!

In my latest Weekly Wrapup video I take you further into this mess and show you some other examples of a number of other damaged poles that Eversource and our local phone company Frontier have blighted my neighborhood with.

Some have come to the defense of the electric utility saying it’s not their job to fix any of this. I disagree. Eversource, Frontier and Comcast have been granted the right to profit from poles placed on public and private right-of-ways that they don’t have to pay to access. Frontier and Comcast were even able to get regulations on their business activities lifted allowing them to stay on those poles forever without any government interference into their prices or practices.

So I really don’t care whose responsibility it is – all of these companies should see an issue impacting their customers as a problem they all need to collectively work to solve. Why? Because we provide them free access to public and private land to place the utility cables that they profit greatly from. It wasn’t that long ago that a broken pole immediately resulted in all hands on deck to fix it properly. Sadly that’s not the case anymore.

Comcast did reach out to me following publication of this video to say they will be working to fix the problem. I’ll let you know when that happens.

When Your Business Literally Hangs by a Few Threads

I’ve long been a critic of my local utility monopolies because they’ve put their own profits ahead of doing right by customers and taxpayers. Last night was another example of this.

The top of a utility pole owned by electric monopoly Eversource caught fire around 6:00 p.m. due to their lack of attention and maintenance to their infrastructure. The pole was replaced sometime overnight but the communications cables were still attached to the old pole.

Eversource’s solution was to cut the top and bottom off the old pole and tie it with a rope to the new one. I kid you not. The communications backhaul for me and thousands of Comcast and Frontier customers literally hangs by a few threads.

Eversource owns the pole so they won’t reattach the communications cables. Comcast and Frontier outsource most of their fiber optic line work to contractors and lack the staff to actually deal with it in a timely manner. And they can conveniently point to Eversource as being uncooperative. Who knows if Eversource even tried to coordinate with Comcast and Frontier that evening to get the pole fixed correctly?

Part of the problem is that none of these companies shoulder any responsibility. It’s so much easier to pass the buck – their mutual customers be damned.

And this pole is not alone in my neighborhood.. Five poles down and this is what you’ll see:

It’s been strapped together like this for at least a year or two. The power company added a second pole for power but nobody ever took the communications cables off the old one. Frontier was even coming through here running fiber and left everything on the old pole.

The kicker here is that these monopolies are granted access to public and private property to run the wires that they profit from. In fact I have utility pole on my property and wires running underneath my driveway that go to other homes with a right of way they can use for free in perpetuity.

It’s time these companies put the needs of their ratepayers first and fix this mess. Enough of the finger pointing. For more on why Eversource is the worst company ever see my analysis piece here: