A New Era for Hawaiʻi's Telephone Poles

Nov 9, 2018

Credit ErikaWittlieb / Pixabay

One of the biggest recent deals between utilities in Hawaiʻi simplifies ownership of a ubiquitous feature in the landscape. 

Nobody really thinks about telephone poles very much — unless you’re are responsible for them. In Hawaiʻi that has meant the Hawaiian Electric Companies and Hawaiian Telcom. For nearly a 100 years, the two companies have had joint ownership of a forest-worth of telephone poles throughout the state.

That all changed last week when the Public Utilities Commission approved a deal over telephone pole ownership on Oʻahu, the Big Island and throughout Maui County. Under this deal, Hawaiian Telcom is transferring its ownership stake in more than 120,000 poles to the Hawaiian Electric Companies, in exchange for $48 million in credit against past and future charges for attaching their technology to the poles.

What will the electric company do as the new full owner of all these poles?

Step one is an audit of the poles and the operation and maintenance costs associated with them. Next comes eliminating around 14,000 double poles across the state. Then comes opportunity, as the poles themselves are valuable real estate that can be leased to third-party vendors as attachment points for other technologies. One example is the next level of cellular service, called 5G, which will require a network of repeaters to provide coverage.

Another are smart sensors for the power grid as homeowners with solar panels become power producers.