“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Shakespeare gave these words to Dick the Butcher in Henry VI Part 2, by far the most famous words from one of Shakespeare’s earliest and least distinguished plays. While the scene has slapstick elements, Dick is part of a conspiracy to depose Henry VI that led in time to many deaths (in the play). As Henry VI, who became King at the age of 9 months, lost everything his father famously won in France, the regicide idea is not without dramatic interest. But it is hard to resist a sense of irony, that lawyers uphold the kingdom and the law.
We have found ourselves in a similar position. We have had to retain lawyers to uphold the law. The issue, while not about the kingdom, still resonates, as our contest was also about the prospect of something lost. Communities in Connecticut need the power to construct broadband networks when private carriers do not provide full coverage or the latest technology. That power had been seriously compromised through a kind of usurpation, our Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) attempting to strip municipalities of the power by squeezing the meaning out of Connecticut Statute §16-233. That statute gives communities the right to install networks “for any purpose” without paying recurring pole fees, a reasonable bargain as communities in Connecticut, unlike most other states, do not charge pole owners for use of the public right of way into which poles are installed. In a ruling issued in May of 2018 PURA attempted to restrict “for any purpose” to “municipal purposes” on grounds that free pole access was an illegal competitive advantage. Towns around Connecticut sued PURA, with the necessary help of attorneys. On 2 December 2019 they won. Communities are now free to install broadband networks on utility poles, a power Frontier and other carriers had hoped to prevent. This is the story. While over in a sense, it carries a message about how our system works and the ways in which carriers attempt to protect their interests when their interest do not converge with community interests.