What Happens When an Agreement for a Pole Transfer Expires? 

Posted by Ashley Little on September 29, 2015

Pole Transfer RequestsPole transfer requests are business as usual for attachers and utility pole owners. A pole is damaged, ages beyond its usefulness or is upgraded from wood to another material. Pole owners move their equipment to a new pole and request attachers do the same in a reasonable timeframe. The time limit varies, but a good average is about 45 days.

Unfortunately, life, weather, work overload or a number of other circumstances sometimes get in the way of an on-time transfer and equipment ends up staying on an old pole longer than the contract says it should. At that point, the attacher becomes delinquent, but what else happens?

It depends on the part you play in the joint use relationship.

If you are a pole owner:

Double wood becomes an issue. If an attaching company neglects to transfer their equipment to the new pole in a timely fashion, two poles end up standing where there should only be one. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. The public generally sees double poles as eyesores. Secondly, old poles are often replaced for safety reasons, meaning less-than-optimal equipment ends up spending more time than necessary in service.

Liability becomes a concern. The pole owner assumes all liability for assets in the field, so if a double pole damages property or causes injury, the company that owns the asset is responsible. As a result, when the transfer time period has elapsed, some pole owners may transfer ownership of the pole to the delinquent attacher to mitigate liability.

If you are an attacher:

You may end up owning an old or "bad" pole. Then the contractually determined time period for transfer has elapsed, ownership of the old pole can be transferred to the lagging attaching company. Nobody really wants to do this, but it is an option and it does happen.

You may damage your relationship with your business partners - the pole owners. Joint use is a relationship. Like all relationships, promises that are kept and good communication make for a healthy partnership. Creating double wood issues and pole ownership changes makes no one happy.

How do you fix the problem?

Pole owners do not want to have to transfer ownership of bad or decommissioned poles. Attachers do not want to create backlogs in the first place. If all the interested parties have an effective way to communicate requests back and forth, stay on task and escalate issues to the appropriate people within their respective organizations, it is a win for everyone involved.

Attachers win because they avoid assuming liability of a pole they did not want to own in the first place.

Pole owners win because timely transfers maintain good relationships with attachers and fewer ownership changes cuts down on legal fees.

Everyone wins because the job gets done—equipment is transferred, old poles are removed, views are restored and service continues uninterrupted. And that is perhaps the biggest triumph of all.

The Takeaway

Overall, managing field assets, specifically utility poles, is best handled using a well-designed process  not on a pole by pole basis. The days of ad hoc management of pole transfers have passed. Addressing transfer requests in a timely manner, given the owner's liability for the old poles remaining, is a must. At the same time, the assumption of that liability for failure to transfer carries the same risk and exposure for the attacher. 

Best practices dictate that owners and attachers should manage these activities using a well-defined process with competent, trained personnel to ensure all transfers are completed in the contractually-specified timeframe. In some cases, internal resources are available to create such a process, but when this is not the case, there are outside contractors, also known as Third Party Administrators.  In either case, the best method for in-house or TPA staff to manage plant infrastructure is by adhering to a consistent proven process.

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