A Lehigh County judge has authorized PPL Corp. to take down equipment installed on its poles by MAW Communications for LanCity Connect, the municipal broadband network MAW is building in Lancaster.
What that means for the nascent community broadband project, however, remains to be seen.
PPL spokesman Joe Nixon said the utility has identified “a significant amount of unauthorized MAW attachments ... which must be removed.”
Brian Kelly, MAW’s director of operations, said he doesn’t think PPL will undertake an aggressive dismantling.
“It would not be in the best interests of the citizens of Lancaster,” he said, “nor does it seem to be in the spirit of the agreement and the efforts by all parties involved to arrive a reasonable, practical and just solution.”
Suit filed in December
LanCity’s deployment has been on hold since December, when PPL sued MAW in Lehigh County Court.
The suit alleged that MAW made numerous unsafe attachments to PPL’s poles without permission as part of the LanCity buildout.
MAW says most if not all of the work was routine and did not require PPL’s authorization. As for PPL’s allegation that the fiber-optic network poses a safety risk, MAW provided the court with a third-party evaluation it commissioned that concluded it does not.
Issued last month, the order from Judge Edward Reibman provides a fresh set of ground rules for PPL and MAW while the suit is ongoing.
It says PPL may, at MAW’s expense, “remove or remediate any unauthorized attachment” that MAW made to its poles.
It says MAW must send a notice to LanCity customers that their internet service “may be disrupted without further notice” and must follow up with individual customers as appropriate.
The caveat is that PPL must “avoid or minimize” disruption to city services supported by the fiber-optic system, such as traffic light control and the Lancaster Community Safety Coalition’s surveillance cameras. Half of the fiber-optic network’s bandwidth is reserved for municipal uses.
PPL spokesman Nixon said the utility is already exchanging information with the city, and removal will start “in the near future.”
The general notice alerting customers to potential disruption is expected to go out in a week or so, Kelly said. He said MAW expects service disruptions, if there are any, to be minor and localized.
The hope would be to have interrupted connections back up and running the same day, he said.
‘A path forward’
Kelly said the order “provides a path forward,” and will allow MAW “to resume deployment while the larger contractual issues with PPL are being decided.”
Down the road, the order could allow MAW to start adding customers again while the lawsuit works its way through court, he said.
Reibman’s order requires MAW to submit all its existing pole attachments to PPL through the utility’s online portal, and any proposed new ones the same way.
MAW isn’t allowed to do any work without PPL’s permission, but PPL must act on MAW’s permit applications “as promptly as the situation may reasonably require.”
MAW must maintain a $75,000 escrow account for reimbursing PPL and pay for a consultant’s report on the poles that PPL commissioned.
The order does not grant PPL’s petition to find MAW in contempt of court. It gives Lancaster’s city government the “intervenor” status it sought.
That allows the city, which is not being sued, to advocate for its interests in the matter.