Louisville, Kentucky, public/private fiber project faces heat from taxpayer lobbyist group

Louisville overall has been a hotbed of broadband installation controversy.

Louisville, Kentucky’s, latest proposal to improve broadband availability—a citywide fiber network built via a public-private partnership—has to weather a local lobbyist group's protest first.

While Louisville city leaders would like to see a citywide broadband network on the basis that it would enable more broadband choices for residential and business customers, as well as potentially smart city applications like smart traffic lights, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) wants to prevent the proposed project from getting off the ground.

TPA, which is part of the political donor network run by multibillionaires Charles and David Koch, made an argument similar to the one incumbent service providers and conservative groups have always made when communities want to build their own networks: Government should not be in the business of providing broadband services.

David Williams, president of TPA said in a TechRepublic article that "we don't consider a core government function to be providing broadband.”

Williams added that TPA would not mind seeing the project take off as long as it did not require taxpayers to pay for it.

"We're concerned that what is the next technology that is going to come around,” Williams said. “It's a very expensive undertaking by Kentucky.”

Grace Simrall, chief of civic innovation for Louisville Metro Government, said that "TPA has done this before in other municipalities, lobbying hard against this, saying it's a loss of taxpayer money and saying the private ISPs already have this service available.”

Under the proposed plan, which will be voted on as part of the city’s overall budget on June 22, the city would spend $5.4 million to add 97 miles of fiber cable as part of a fiber backbone in Jefferson County, where Louisville is located. Today, Louisville owns 21.3 miles of fiber cable within a business district in downtown Louisville.

If the budget item is approved, it would allow for an additional 97 miles of high-speed fiber to be installed. This would include seven miles stretching from downtown Louisville to the Portland neighborhood, an underserved community in west Louisville.

That 7-mile stretch of cabling would cost about $2.4 million. An additional $3 million would be spent to partner with Kentucky Wired on its project to install 90 miles of fiber optic cable throughout the county.

Louisville overall has been a hotbed of broadband installation controversy.

Google Fiber incited a war with local incumbent telcos after the city voted to approve the one-touch-make-ready ordinance that would allow service providers like Google Fiber to move existing utility lines from AT&T and other service providers.

Google Fiber said that before the ordinance, traditional method of installing 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.

AT&T later sued the city, arguing in its suit (PDF) that the Nashville city council overstepped its boundaries in enacting a reformed pole attachment process, and that only the FCC can regulate privately owned utility poles.