AT&T Battles Google over Louisville, Kentucky and its Poles

by Matt Klassen on February 29, 2016

telephone-poleSay what now? An interesting story is brewing in the city whose name no one can say correctly, as the home of the Kentucky Derby and baseball bats is quickly becoming the focal point of a ongoing proxy fight between AT&T and Google (or more accurately, Alphabet) over the latter’s expansion of its next-generation Fiber Internet infrastructure.

More precisely, Google wants access to the utility poles in Louisville, and in an effort to foster increased competition in the broadband and video industries, earlier this year the local municipal government approved an ordinance to allow Google expedited access to those poles. But unfortunately for Google and Louisville, AT&T owns almost half of those poles, and wouldn’t you know that Ma Bell is planning its own ultra-fast Internet development in the city, and by stifling Google’s efforts the telecom giant could get the leg up it needs.

So enter a lawsuit, not directed at Google and its own deployment of its super-fast Fiber network of course, but against Louisville, with Ma Bell attempting to stop legislation that would allow Google access to said poles, arguing that the city is over-reaching its authority and has no right to impose rules on who can use AT&T’s own utility poles.

Why Louisville, you may ask? The answer is simple: the city stands as one of the potential testing sites for Google’s ultra-fast Fiber Internet connection, which immediately makes it a battleground for the future of Internet connectivity. In an effort to level the playing field even before the technology goes mainstream, AT&T has decided to make Louisville its testing site as well, seemingly to give the city’s lab rats err… residents, the ability to compare and contrast. It should be noted that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this sort of proxy fight over Fiber, and I doubt it will be the last.

Now in an effort to ease current restrictions on the deployment of new Internet services Louisville recently passed an ordinance reducing the processing time for applications to use the city’s utility poles from six months to just 30 days. Further, the decision would allow the Internet companies to install their own equipment without needing to contact the owner of said utility poles or employ a third-party installer.

It is this decision, in this growing Internet Cold Way, that AT&T has taken issue with, not because it can ultimately deny access to its utility poles, but because it simple wants to stymie Google’s Fiber project as long as possible.

“Such policies reduce cost, disruption, and delay, by allowing the work needed to prepare a utility pole for new fiber to be attached in as little as a single visit—which means more safety for drivers and the neighborhood,” Google said on Friday.

According to an AT&T spokesperson: “Louisville Metro Council’s recently passed ‘One Touch Make Ready’ Ordinance is invalid, as the city has no jurisdiction under federal or state law to regulate pole attachments,” AT&T said in a statement to Louisville Business First today. “We have filed an action to challenge the ordinance as unlawful. Google can attach to AT&T’s poles once it enters into AT&T’s standard Commercial Licensing Agreement, as it has in other cities. This lawsuit is not about Google. It’s about the Louisville Metro Council exceeding its authority.”

Of course the irony is that the city seemingly does have the right to dictate access to said utility poles, because the Louisville ordinance has more to do with the application timeframe, and less to do with the actual authority of the municipal government, making AT&T’s actions that much more suspect.

Given that access to said utility poles is key to the expansion of Fiber in Louisville, Google has started a proxy battle of its own, taking this issue to the court of public opinion, characterizing AT&T as stifling competition and working to inhibit the growth the Internet. Louisville, for its part, has promised to vociferously defend its decision to enhance Internet competition and growth in its city, making this the latest round in what now seems to be a growing Cold War for Internet superiority.


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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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