A pole-attachment battle pitting AT&T against Google Fiber has spread from Louisville, Kentucky, to Memphis, Tennessee.
This week, Google Fiber is filing an ordinance in Memphis aimed at establishing so-called “One Touch Make Ready” rules, which are aimed at streamlining Google’s fiber network buildout on utility poles.
If passed, the ordinance would allow Google Fiber to move existing Comcast and AT&T cables itself on utility poles owned by Nashville Electric Service. This would circumvent the old “make ready” rules that require Google Fiber to notify NES of the need to make space for its cables, only to have NES contact AT&T and Comcast to execute the actual work.
“By embracing a one-touch make ready policy, Nashville is taking a significant step to bringing faster, better broadband to its residents,” Amol Naik, Google Fiber’s southeast region head of public policy, told the Nashville Scene. “Such policies can simplify and expedite a big infrastructure effort like Google Fiber, reducing community disruption and promoting public safety.”
The plan, of course, isn’t popular with incumbent internet service providers Comcast and AT&T, the latter of which has already filed suit against Google Fiber over One Touch Make Ready in Louisville, where AT&T owns a big chunk of the utility poles. AT&T has asserted that the ordinance violates a number of state and federal laws.
Joining the fight in Louisville is Charter Communications, which just purchased the city’s dominant cable operator, Time Warner Cable. Last week, Charter sent a letter to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and the 26-member city council, stating that the city's separate franchise agreements allow Google to operate under less burdensome rules.
"There is no justification for different regulatory treatment," said Jason Keller, Charter’s government liaison.
According the Scene, Comcast lobbyist James Weaver sent a letter to a Google Fiber and NES executives last week detailing damage allegedly incurred to Comcast equipment by Google Fiber contractors. Weaver demanded that Google Fiber stop any work involving Comcast equipment and threatened legal action if the company didn’t comply.
“We believe that the appropriate next step would be to conduct a meeting of the stakeholders — including AT&T, Comcast, Google Fiber, NES and Public Works — to review the make-ready and permit process and discuss areas for improvement,” said Sara Jo Walker, a southern regional spokesperson for Comcast. “This should be accomplished prior to any proposed legislation.”
Further complicating the issue is the fact that AT&T uses a union labor force to perform make-ready tasks.
“While we have not seen the proposed ordinance, we are concerned that a make-ready ordinance would interfere with our contractual commitment to have our skilled employees represented by the Communications Workers of America perform make-ready work on our behalf,” AT&T Tennessee Spokesperson Joe Burgan told the Scene. “Beyond that, we have serious concerns with other companies being allowed to perform work on our facilities without providing us notice, which could put service reliability and public safety at risk in some circumstances. Additionally, jurisdiction to regulate pole attachments rests with the FCC, and municipalities have no authority under federal or state law to enact the ordinance being proposed here.”