Utility poles don’t get much attention considering that they are the most visible part of both the telecommunication and energy system, but the state’s Consumer Advocate wants that to change.

The consumer advocate, Don Kreis, is drawing attention to a deal in which the state’s biggest telephone company (Consolidated Communications) wants to sell its poles to the state’s biggest electric company (Eversource). You can read his piece in InDepthNH.org, an independent news source. As is always the case with his columns, it’s full of valuable context but still snappy.

His big concern is that the cost, which will have to be paid by people who use electricity, is being kept secret. As an Eversource customer I’m not crazy about that. But I’m really interested because it lets us talk about what most of us call “telephone poles” – a misleading term that will be downright inaccurate if the sale goes through.

I wrote a big article about utility poles five years ago, estimating that New Hampshire had 500,000 of them at a cost of at least $60 million at the time. (You can read it here – be warned that it’s not short, and it includes this subhead: “A Machine That Could Fight Godzilla.”)

Due to historical accident, some are owned by phone companies and some by electric companies and some by both. Consolidated wants to sell the 3,844 that it owns outright along with a 50 percent interest in 343,098 others that it shares with Eversource. 

Utility poles are a surprising source of dispute – between towns and utilities over how much tax each one pays, and between different utilities over who has to pay to maintain or replace them. There are also disputes about who gets to put their wires and cables on which parts of the pole, a dispute that has held up broadband penetration in some rural areas.

But all the disruptive technology in the world won’t accomplish much without a network of wires and cables to bring electricity and the internet to and from homes and businesses. We are all dependent on the humble teleph – er, utility pole.

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