Before the Deal and After the Fact: Two Ways to Banish Bootlegs
No utility pole owner relishes the thought of undocumented, unwanted, un-paid bootleg attachments hiding out on their poles. How can an owner combat the problem and collect the rent and fees that are due? Further, how can pole owners stop further unauthorized attachments before they happen?
Audit, Record, Organize, Repeat
The first and perhaps most thorough way to clean house with regard to unauthorized bootleg attachments is to conduct a footprint audit of all poles and equipment. More than just a one-time activity, a successful audit has a few pieces, all of which are part of due diligence and designed to ensure the best, most accurate outcome.
A number of systems and technologies exist for conducting this type of field audit. To be successful, the audit should include a record of the location of all poles owned, verification of existing data or collection of data if the pole is new, documentation of all attachments, a thorough safety audit, and a rot test to ensure the pole is in good condition. An accurate depiction of usable space on the pole will ensure quality engineering practices for potential attachers, routine maintenance, and limited liability due to poor plant conditions. Set a reminder: According to Matt Hand, OSP Operations Manager, audits should be performed every three to five years for safety and attacher activity.
All of this adds up to a more knowledgeable, prepared owner who understands in detail what is on the poles and has the documentation and power to seamlessly collect rent due from authorized attachers, banishing bootlegs for good.
Check your Contract: Self-Reporting to Avoid Fines and Fees
Another, perhaps lesser-known way to manage attachments and relationships with the companies that own them is to write a self-reporting clause into the contract made with the attaching company. This clause serves as an incentive for attachers to step up, tally up their attachments, and proactively report their equipment and activity to pole owners.
Having this type of contractual language could be a real benefit to both owner and attacher. Pole owners have the chance to get ahead on paperwork, adding attachments to their respective joint use management databases in a timely fashion while avoiding the extra work and complexity that collecting back rent or levying penalties can create. Attachers beware: If a pole owner gathers knowledge of unauthorized attachments as the result of an inventory, they have the opportunity to not only collect up to five years of back rent as well as a permit to attach fee for every unauthorized attachment, but they can also fine the offending attacher with penalties for each unauthorized attachment or attachment in violation—between $50 to $250 per attachment. These fees can add up quickly.
There is a benefit to self-reporting clauses for attachers as well. If a pole owner writes a self-reporting clause into the attaching company’s contract, the attacher is given the chance to notify the pole owner of the attachments made, provide multiple attachments on one permitting request and correct any outstanding violations, before anyone levies a per-pole penalty or other fees. This is the ultimate opportunity for proactivity: report now or risk fines later.
Whatever route you choose, know that approaching your attacher relationships with a joint use management system in place is a smart way to handle legal attachers and banish bootleggers from your poles.