AT&T, Time Warner Cable Hope Incessant Whining Will Keep Google Fiber From Louisville
from the protecting-the-status-quo dept
For fifteen years now, companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable (and their various PR and policy tendrils) have whined incessantly about the “burdensome regulations” that saddle the U.S. broadband industry. Less regulation, they argue, will pave the path to broadband nirvana, opening the door to immense innovation and more competition in the sector. So Louisville recently set about reworking its city broadband ordinances to streamline both the pole attachment and franchise agreement processes dramatically, something you’d assume would thrill both companies.
Yet both companies have spent the last month whining incessantly about the move. Why? Because it will open the door to competition from Google Fiber:
“Time Warner is also questioning if the city has the legal authority to regulate equipment attached to utility poles, saying that power is given to the Kentucky Public Service Commission. Gillespie adds the city would also be violating Time Warner’s constitutional rights by allowing others to take possession of their property…In a separate letter sent Thursday morning, AT&T Kentucky President Hood Harris also said the measure infringes their agreement and ?would likely disrupt the service our customers receive.? The vast majority of utility poles in the city are owned by either AT&T or Louisville Gas & Electric.”
As it stands, it can take up to six months to get these companies to sign off on letting a competitor access city poles (AT&T owns around 40% of them in Louisville) and move (sometimes a matter of inches) equipment if necessary. That can create the perfect opportunity for an incumbent carrier to intentionally stall a competitors’ plans, something Google Fiber says it has experienced in a number of markets. In fact Google Fiber has argued that Title II, held up by carrier lobbyists as the pinnacle of “burdensome regulation,” helps speed up pole attachment disputes in many markets.
The new proposal now lets any company (including Time Warner Cable and AT&T) sign a single franchise agreement, replacing the 80 different cross county agreements needed previously. Louisville’s new proposal also streamlines the entire pole attachment process to around 30 days and, to counter any ISP concerns about equipment damage, requires that Google Fiber be held financially liable for any problems. Eager for something vaguely resembling competition, the city has voted 23-0 on the proposal over the continued objections of Time Warner Cable and AT&T:
“The ordinance is simply unworkable,” said Gardner Gillespie, an attorney who is representing Time Warner. “It does not provide any meaningful way for TWC to know what changes have been made to its existing facilities or to assure any damage is promptly cured.” AT&T added the plan violates their union agreements with workers on who has a right to install or alter their equipment but members said they believe allowing for an easier installation process will result in more jobs for those type of workers.”
In short, both companies threw every legal argument they could at the city council in the hopes of thwarting Google Fiber’s expedited arrival in the city. And while historically whining and campaign contributions have been enough to keep status-quo-protecting regulations in place, the desperate desire for better broadband is finally breaking the stranglehold these companies have enjoyed over local government. As a result, Louisville’s now going to get gigabit broadband from a third provider, and AT&T and Time Warner Cable find themselves on unfamiliar ground: having to actually compete on speed, customer service, and price. Terrifying.