Judge Backs AT&T, Comcast Nuisance Suit Against Google Fiber In Nashville

from the why-we-can't-have-nice-things dept

There's numerous 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 and 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) have supported the changes.

But because this would accelerate competitor broadband deployments as well, incumbent ISPs like AT&T, Comcast and Charter Spectrum did what they do best: they filed nuisance 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 this tactic didn't work so well, with a Judge ruling that the city was perfectly within its legal rights to manage the city's utility poles. ISPs had claimed that these cities' authority was over-ridden by FCC rules, though even the FCC itself backed Google Fiber and the cities in this fight (obviously this position, like most pro-competitive policies, were reversed when Trump appointed Ajit Pai to head the FCC last fall).

In Nashville however those same ISPs last week scored a major victory on the news that a Judge has backed incumbent ISP claims that the city did not have jurisdiction over utility poles -- and that the policy change violates contract law. Google Fiber, for its part, says it's reviewing the ruling:

"We're reviewing today's court ruling to understand its potential impact on our build in Nashville," a Google spokesperson said. "We have made significant progress with new innovative deployment techniques in some areas of the city, but access to poles remains an important issue where underground deployment is not a possibility."

There's several reasons Google Fiber announced last fall that it was pivoting toward wireless/fiber hybrid deployments. One was the high cost and slow pace of fiber deployment, but another was the kind of legal and regulatory roadblocks being erected by the likes of AT&T, Charter and Comcast, who are utterly terrified at the faintest specter of competition disrupting their all-too-cozy markets. Google Fiber has managed to avoid some of these obstacles via technologies like microtrenching, but the incumbent ISP goal of slowing the rise of competition has proven successful overall.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: broadband, competition, google fiber, nashville, one touch make ready, utility poles
Companies: at&t, c harter, comcast, google


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2017 @ 3:29pm

    Re: Re: Everything Google does requires special privileges.

    > So McDonalds can block a Taco Bell from opening by denying reasonable access to them to connect power lines?

    No, and that's not what happened in Nashville.

    The FCC has jurisdiction there, so the FCC would have to change the pole attachment rules. Alternatively, Tennessee would have to opt out of FCC jurisdiction.

    This FCC does not have jurisdiction in Louisville because Kentucky declined giving the FCC jurisdiction. Therefore, Louisville has jurisdiction.

    source: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/11/att-and-comcast-win-lawsuit-they-filed-to-stall-google-f iber-in-nashville/

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.