AT&T is suing Nashville over the recent passage of the Google Fiber-backed "One Touch Make Ready" utility pole attachment ordinance, signaling the next fight to open up the city’s broadband market to new competitors.
Under the new plan, service providers like Google Fiber would be allowed to move existing utility lines from AT&T and other service providers.
Google Fiber said that before the One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) ordinance, the traditional method to install fiber along existing utility poles would be accelerated if the internet giant could hire its own contractor to move lines to make room for its fiber. However, under the current law, new entrants like Google Fiber have to wait months for existing providers like AT&T and Comcast to move their lines themselves.
Filed in federal court, AT&T’s lawsuit follows Nashville’s Mayor Megan Barry’s signing of the new law after the Metro Council voted on Tuesday to approve the proposal.
AT&T said in its suit (PDF) that the Nashville city council is overstepping its boundaries in enacting a reformed pole attachment process, adding that only the FCC can regulate privately owned utility poles.
Today, AT&T owns 20 percent of the poles in Nashville while Nashville Electric Service (NES) owns the remaining 80 percent.
"The Ordinance thus purports to permit a third party (the Attacher) to temporarily seize AT&T’s property, and to alter or relocate AT&T’s property, without AT&T’s consent and with little notice," said AT&T in the lawsuit.
AT&T has asked the court to grant the telco a declaratory and permanent injunction from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to stop Metro from enforcing the new law.
Google Fiber said that it would join Nashville in fighting AT&T’s lawsuit.
"Google Fiber is disappointed that AT&T has threatened to go to court in an effort to block Nashville’s efforts to increase broadband competition should the OTMR ordinance pass,” said Fleur Knowlsey, senior counsel of Alphabet’s Access group, which manages Google Fiber, in a letter sent to the Nashville city council earlier in the week.
AT&T said that while it will continue to expand services throughout Nashville, it has fight the new ordinance because the city does not have the authority to regulate pole attachment issues.
“AT&T remains committed to Nashville, and our more than 2,200 area employees will continue to turn our significant investment in the area into the fiber-optic based, wired and wireless connectivity that Nashville residents and businesses demand," AT&T Tennessee spokesman Joe Burgan said in a statement. "In addition, as we have maintained from day one of this discussion, Tennessee municipalities do not have jurisdiction to regulate pole attachments. And while we have worked with the mayor, members of council, NES and others toward a better solution for Nashville, in light of the recent vote, we have no other option but to challenge this unlawful ordinance in federal court.”
Nashville is just one of two cities where AT&T and Google Fiber are engaged in an ongoing fight over utility pole access. In February, AT&T filed a suit against the city of Louisville, Kentucky, saying that the OTMR proposal therefore violates a number of state and federal laws.
Similar to Nashville, the majority of the poles in Louisville are owned by AT&T or Louisville Gas & Electric.
At that time, AT&T asked a federal judge to clarify that the authority to regulate poles is reserved to the Kentucky Public Service Commission and the FCC in an 11-page suit.
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