PPL Electric says the company building out Lancaster’s LanCity Connect fiber-optic broadband network is installing its equipment on PPL’s poles unsafely and without the utility’s authorization.
PPL on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against MAW Communications. It asks the court to force MAW to stop all installations on PPL poles and take down all the gear it has already placed.
The utility is seeking a preliminary injunction requiring MAW to do so before the full case is heard.
“Injunctive relief is necessary to prevent immediate and irreparable harm to PPL Electric and potentially others due to the hazards created by MAW,” PPL’s filing says.
Additionally, PPL is seeking proof of insurance from MAW and the posting of $50,000 security.
The suit names MAW Communications and Frank Wiczkowski, its president, as defendants. It was filed in the Court of Common Pleas in Lehigh County, where PPL is based.
In an email to LNP, MAW’s director of operations, Brian Kelly, characterized the matter as “a long-standing dispute between two Pennsylvania public utilities.”
He said it fits into “a larger national conversation” over how to update the management and regulation of public rights-of-way to accommodate 21st century infrastructure.
In this particular instance, “both parties involved completely agree that public safety is a paramount priority, and MAW will be working directly with PPL to expedite remediation of any identified safety issues,” Kelly said.
PPL spokesman Paul Wirth said PPL employees were working in Lancaster several weeks ago when they noticed a MAW crew installing equipment on a PPL pole.
A subsequent investigation found at least 70 poles with unauthorized MAW attachments, PPL says. There may be more, Wirth said.
“They don’t have authorization to attach to any of PPL’s poles,” Wirth said.
In 2003, MAW signed a license agreement with PPL that spells out PPL’s application process and standards for pole access.
That’s necessary to ensure PPL’s infrastructure remains safe and reliable and that other companies don’t shift costs onto it and its customers, Wirth said.
MAW has filed applications for 267 poles so far, but PPL hasn’t approved any yet, Wirth said. He said MAW has indicated it wants access to about 1,500 poles in all.
He said MAW has persisted in seeking exceptions to PPL’s standard attachment process, exceptions that the utility isn’t willing to grant.
“That’s been holding things up,” he said.
It’s unclear at this point how many LanCity Connect customers might be affected if MAW had to take down its equipment.
Mayor Rick Gray’s chief of staff, Pat Brogan, said in an email: “Unless we are otherwise advised, this does not impact LanCity Connect.”
MAW has been building out a fiber-optic network in Lancaster over several years, designed to support various city IT functions. LanCity Connect, launched this year, is a consumer broadband service hosted on the network.
MAW ran into difficulties within weeks of its initial LanCity Connect rollout, causing the company to pause and regroup. Since then, it has been proceeding slowly and methodically, aiming to alert all potential customers ahead of time when they are eligible for installation.
MAW, based in Reading, is a utility regulated by the Public Utility Commission.