Pole fee increase may hit cable subscribers

Staff Writer

An increase in a little-known fee could mean higher cable TV bills in the future.

West Point Selectmen Tuesday adopted a three-year phase-in of the fee West Point Water and Light charges Comcast and a few other services to use the city's utility poles. The increase is mandated as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority's contract with the local utility.

The fee will go from the current $16.50 per pole per year to $36 per pole. The increase will be phased in over three years, starting in August.

The city has approximately 2,900 poles, meaning once fully implemented, the increase will generate about $56,550 in additional revenue.

But it's not designed as a revenue grab but rather better reflects what it costs the city to check and maintain its poles each year, including salaries, repairs and other costs, City Administrator Randy Jones told selectmen.

The TVA has analyzed costs throughout its service area and is mandating all its local utilities raise rates to come in line with national standards and actual costs.

"It's Valley-wide. TVA is doing it everywhere," Jones said, noting the fee is something most citizens don't even know exists.

About 80 percent of 153 power distributors already have adopted the new contracts or are in the process of adopting. Both Columbus Light and Water and 4-County Electric are in the process of making adjustments as contracts with other services and the TVA are renewed, their managers said.

Comcast started paying the current rate seven years ago. For years before that, it paid just $1.50 per pole annually.

Selectman Jasper Pittman, who has been critical of the TVA, its rate increases and its mandates on local utilities, grumbled about the latest move, fearing Comcast will use the increase to pass an even bigger increase on to its dwindling customer base.

"They just force things down our throats," Pittman said of the TVA, "And we can't do anything about it."

Jones said the extra revenue could be used for any purpose, including offsetting at least a small part of other TVA rate changes.