AT&T, Comcast Fight Utility Pole Reform To Slow Google Fiber's Arrival In Nashville
from the get-the-hell-out-of-the-way dept
We’ve talked a few times about how incumbent broadband providers often use their ownership of city utility poles (or their “ownership” of entire city councils and state legislatures) to slow Google Fiber’s arrival in new markets. In California and Texas, AT&T has often been accused of using the process of pole attachment approval to intentionally block or slow down the arrival of competitors. AT&T also recently sued the city of Louisville for streamlining utility pole attachment rules intended to dramatically speed up the time it takes to attach new fiber to poles.
This week this fight extended into Nashville, where Comcast and AT&T are again fighting pole attachment reform. Google Fiber supports “one touch make ready” pole attachment rules, which lets a licensed, insured third party contractor move any ISP’s gear on a utility pole (often a matter of inches) to install new fiber. Being incumbents with networks already deployed, Comcast, AT&T and Charter obviously have a vested interest in making sure this doesn’t happen. As such, they’ve started loudly bitching about Google Fiber to local Nashville news outlets:
“Just because you spell your name with eight different colors doesn’t mean you can’t play by the rules that everybody else has to fucking play by,” says one operative, venting about Google’s reputation for wooing local officials in various cities into accommodating the company.
These incumbents have, as a refresher, spent a generation paying for, writing and lobbying for state and local rules that make it hard or impossible to actually compete with them. That anybody would believe these companies’ complaints about “fairness” is dumbfounding, yet given their political power, these arguments go much further than they should. AT&T, for example, is telling Nashville politicians they only oppose Google Fiber’s reform plan because they care so much about unions:
“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,” says AT&T Tennessee spokesperson Joe Burgan. “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.”
To be very clear, such “one touch make ready” reform rules are broadly supported as a way to speed up broadband deployment. Contrary to AT&T’s claim, under most implementations of these rules, incumbent ISPs still receive forewarning about upcoming work, they just have to respond and approve (or reject, with reasons) these requests on a much shorter time scale so they can’t use the system to unfair advantage. And it’s not “other companies” performing the work, it’s independent, licensed and insured third party contractors that have already been doing this kind of work all over the country — often for the incumbents themselves.
These are the same companies that bitch endlessly about “burdensome regulations,” yet consistently write, lobby for and pass regulations that hinder competitors from disrupting the market. In this case, AT&T’s next likely step is to file a lawsuit against Nashville just as it did in Louisville, all the while pretending (despite a generation of contradictory evidence) it’s just a stickler for level playing fields.