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.

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Companies: at&t, google, time warner cable

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Comments on “AT&T, Time Warner Cable Hope Incessant Whining Will Keep Google Fiber From Louisville”

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27 Comments
WDS (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m pretty sure that the agreement that allowed them to put in the poles in the first place, had a stipulation that other utilities could also use the poles. Every city that I know of does. The only thing that Louisville is doing is expediting the process so that the incumbents can’t cause unnecessary delay. I’m try to figure out how that is “allowing others to take possession of their property”.

Bruce says:

Re: Smoke and mirrors

Possibly, but I think Google will actually use the service to allow deeper data mining of your browsing history. Basically, if they’re your ISP, nobody needs to install a cookie or any script on your PC to advertise. Google can use an “anonymous” customer ID in their own database and pass that (or relateed keywords) to the advertisers that already use their advertising networks. Unlike the other ISPs, their ad networks are already embedded in most websites, so they don’t have to use injection techniques to insert non-standard ads onto web pages and get ad revenue out of their customer data. They just have to enrich the data passed to the ad network with ISP-level information.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Less regulation … immense innovation … competition”

ISP or BBP is a dumb pipe. What sort of innovation is possible with a dumb pipe? These folks want to do a bit more than they allude to.

AT&T owns 40% of the poles, but what about the right of way – what do they pay for those “rights”?

Am I allowed to kick the cable guy out of my backyard? Probably not – something about right of way. Apparently they can dig up your garden and let your dog loose with impunity.

Do they pay the vet bill when your dog eats the cable they left above ground in your backyard?
– No –
But they want assurances that “their” equipment is not damaged by the competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What sort of innovation is possible with a dumb pipe?

Developing technologies to improve bandwidth, better caching services, and even rolling to IPV6 so that every person and company can have a large number of fixed IP addresses. However for most US ISP’s this results in even more cable cutting, which is the real objection to letting Google into one of their areas, hence they would rather innovate means of protecting the legacy cable business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What sort of innovation is possible with a dumb pipe?

A lone byte travels down a wire. Let’s imagine how many folks we can charge for that shall we? Obviously, the end user who requested it. They have to pay. Let’s also charge the people sending the byte. Let’s try and charge the middle guy who delivered it to our facility (i.e. peering). Hmmm.. How about the electric company? Without them that damn byte never would have moved, so let’s charge them as well. Let’s also track down Al Gore because he invented this whole internet thing, so let’s charge him, too.

That’s the kind of innovation they speak of. Financial innovation. You know, like bankers and stuff.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Gillespie adds the city would also be violating Time Warner’s constitutional rights by allowing others to take possession of their property.

An interesting argument, and one that has me wondering about a tiny, surely insignificant point:

How much, if any, public funding and/or tax breaks were used to purchase ‘their’ property? And did they purchase said property the same as anyone else would be able to, or did they get special treatment thanks to their status as a cable provider?

Though I’m sure all of the money spent was entirely theirs, and they gained no special treatment, were that not the case it would seem there would be an argument to be made that said property is not entirely theirs to do with as they wish, especially if this means blocking competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

As others have asked

“I just wonder if G[gle will start to follow suit once people are established and raise the price along with lock in long contracts.”

and this is the issue that needs to be fixed. The fact that Google may be able to overcome some of the political barriers in some locations doesn’t fix the underlying problem. Those political barriers that are responsible for hindering smaller players that don’t have the resources and hence the political influence that google has from entering the market need to be removed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Good point. If I arbitrarily made an agreement with my neighbor that I am going to ask you or the government for a million dollars and give my neighbor half does that somehow entitle me to the money that I am arbitrarily asking the government for? Why should you or the government be concerned with the agreement I have with my neighbor?

If I go to a store to buy something I don’t care what agreements the store has with other stores or their employees beforehand. I look at what the store or service provider has to offer me in exchange for what I’m paying. Their agreements with one another have no bearing on my agreements with the store or service provider.

AT&T can’t just arbitrarily say that the city can’t allow competition in the market because they arbitrarily made an agreement with their workers. That’s none of the city’s concern and that excuse is between AT&T and their workers. Otherwise every company can and will use similar stupid excuses as a pretext to get away with making whatever demand they want. That’s not how the world should work (and yes, I get that since these big companies buy politicians politicians tend to take these stupid excuses seriously because the way the world really works is if you can buy politicians you can demand whatever you want no matter how unfair and corrupt).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If I go to a store to buy something I don’t care what agreements the store has with other stores or their employees beforehand. I look at what the store or service provider has to offer me in exchange for what I’m paying. Their agreements with one another have no bearing on my agreements with the store or service provider.

Let the “morality of tipping” wars begin.

It was just too good to miss.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Seems about right.

They’re city poles, why should the city even need a private company to sign off on the use of those poles. What kinda democracy is this? Since when should a private company get to so directly make governmental decisions like this? How did the city even put itself in such a position (hint: some politicians must have been bought and paid for at one time).

This almost sounds like TWC & AT&T are the president and they can either sign into law or veto a city decision.

Anonymous Coward says:

AT&T has owned the lawmakers in the Kentucky state capital for years. They line the wall with lawyers. Windstream is the other ILEC in Kentucky. Between the two, they will stifle competition at all costs. The knucklehead Tea Party Governor here won’t be sympathetic to his constituents either. Most of the Southeast is under the thumb of AT&T and Comcast. Total train wreck. Tom Wheeler at the FCC has been a glimmer of hope in the dark but Kentucky will continue getting screwed by telcos and cable operators because they can buy the politicians..

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