Judge Kills AT&T's Attempt To Thwart Google Fiber Competition In Louisville

from the defenders-of-the-status-quo dept

There's plenty of methods incumbent ISPs use to keep broadband competition at bay, from buying protectionist state laws to a steady supply of revolving door regulators and lobbyists with a vested interest in protecting the status quo. This regulatory capture goes a long way toward explaining why Americans pay more money for slower broadband than most developed nations. Keeping this dysfunction intact despite a growing resentment from America's under-served and over-charged broadband consumers isn't easy, and has required decades of yeoman's work on the part of entrenched duopolies and their lobbyists.

Case in point: Google Fiber recently tried to build new fiber networks in a large number of cities like Nashville and Louisville, but ran face first into an antiquated utility pole attachment process. As it stands, when a new competitor tries to enter a market, it needs to contact each individual ISP to have them move their own utility pole gear. This convoluted and bureaucratic process can take months, and incumbent ISPs (which often own the poles in question) often slow things down even further by intentionally dragging their feet.

So in cities like Nashville and Louisville, Google Fiber and other competitors have pushed for so-called "one touch make ready" utility pole reform. These reforms let a licensed an insured contractor move any ISP's pole-mounted gear if necessary (usually a matter of inches), as long as the ISP is notified in advance and the contractor pays for any damages. Under these regulatory reforms, the pole attachment process can be reduced from six months or more to just a month or so -- dramatically speeding up fiber deployment. ISPs like Verizon (in part because Google Fiber isn't encroaching on their East Coast turf) has supported the changes.

But because this would speed up competitor broadband deployments as well, incumbent ISPs like AT&T and Charter did what they do best: they filed lawsuits against both Nashville and Louisville -- claiming they'd exceeded their legal authority in updating the rules. The companies proclaim they're simply concerned about the potential damage to their lines (ignored is the fact that the contractors doing the work are often the same people employed by ISPs), but the lawsuits are driven by one thing: fear of competition.

In Louisville, things haven't worked out very well for AT&T, with a Judge recently declaring that the ISP's claim that Louisville had somehow exceeded its authority doesn't make any legal sense:

"AT&T claimed that Louisville has no jurisdiction under federal or state law to regulate pole attachments, an argument that the district court judge picked apart. AT&T argued that the rule referred to in-court documents as Ordinance No. 21 "impermissibly regulates the terms and conditions of pole attachments," but in doing so AT&T "narrowly characterize[d] Ordinance No. 21 as one that regulates pole attachments," the judge wrote. In reality, "the ordinance actually prescribes the 'method or manner of encumbering or placing burdens on' public rights-of-way," Hale wrote.

"Kentucky's state Public Service Commission has exclusive jurisdiction over regulation of rates and services of utilities, but cities are allowed to "regulate local utilities in every area except as to rates and service," the judge wrote.

That's good news for Louisville and people looking for beefed up broadband competition, but the damage is still done, and the delay still benefited AT&T (who'll likely appeal) all the same. Google Fiber wound up being forced to consider a pivot to wireless in Louisville after the company's efforts to deploy gigabit-capable fiber in the city took notably longer than expected. Thanks, in large part, to large incumbent ISPs like AT&T, which at one point publicly mocked Google Fiber's struggles while omitting its lawyers were a major reason for the delays in the first place.

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Filed Under: broadband, google fiber, louisville
Companies: at&t, google

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  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 22 Aug 2017 @ 3:45am

    Those who can't compete... cheat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2017 @ 4:53am

    What? You're suing us? Perhaps you'd like to discuss auditing you're subsidies?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    MyNameHere (profile), 22 Aug 2017 @ 5:21am

    Karl, one thing you need to learn is that poles are not only for ISPs. Phone companies are still phone companies first, and not just an ISP, in the same manner that cable companies are not just ISPs, but also the cable company.

    Most poles are utility poles that include medium current electricity. The local power company is often the ones who first installed the poles, long before anyone else came along.

    So trying to turn it into a battle of ISPs, ignored the larger scope of use of the poles.

    Google is very careful to use this stuff as a bit of an excuse. They found out it's really, really, really freaking expensive to set this stuff up, and even more expensive to maintain customer service for it - soemthing google is not good at in the first place. When they looked at the return on their various moonshot and long term projects, they figured out pretty quickly it wasn't working and stopped all future development.

    Even when cherry picking their installs, they apparently weren't doing well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2017 @ 5:48am


    The only really expensive thing that Google has underestimated was the cost of the lawyers needed to deal with the incumbent ISPs and their abuse of the courts to block competition.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 22 Aug 2017 @ 5:51am

    Even though it lost, AT&T still succeeded. This lawsuit still managed to force Google to waste time and money, the true goal of every frivolous lawsuit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2017 @ 6:22am

    They are both on my shit list.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 22 Aug 2017 @ 9:44am


    I'm fairly certain AT&Ts auditors would come up with figures showing the government still owes them money. ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2017 @ 9:53am


    Yeah Karl ... you need to keep that in mind.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Aug 2017 @ 3:37pm


    What does any of that have to do with the case at hand? Unless I missed a lawsuit the local power companies weren't suing to prevent Google from setting up, it was all AT&T, so bringing up other utilities strikes me as a red herring, as none of them seem to have minded.

    As for 'not doing very well'? Go figure, when one or more other companies sue the cities in question in order to prevent you from setting up shop things can get a little expensive and short-sighted people in the company might decide that it's not worth the bother.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2017 @ 7:57pm

    Re: Re:

    More contrarian nonsense, of course. Even when cherrypicking his details, MyNameHere didn't do it very well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2017 @ 12:42pm

    In Corporate America, ISPs sue you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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