AT&T Sues To Keep Google Fiber Competition Out Of Louisville

from the delay-tactics dept

We recently noted how the city of Louisville had voted 23-0 to let Google Fiber bring ultra-fast broadband competition to the city. As part of the vote, the city revamped its utility pole-attachment rules, which previously forced competitors through a six-month bureaucratic process to connect to the poles, an estimated 40% of which are owned by AT&T. The new policy streamlines that down to one month, letting competitors like Google Fiber move hardware already attached to the poles, while holding them financially accountable for any potential damages.

While this is in effect the “reduction of burdensome regulations” most telecom execs spend the better part of an adult life crying for, in this case local incumbent broadband providers AT&T and Time Warner Cable whined like petulant children about Louisville’s decision, because it would force them to seriously compete in the market. Time Warner Cable went so far as to claim Louisville’s decision violated the company’s Constitutional rights.

AT&T being AT&T, the company has also now filed a federal lawsuit (pdf), claiming that Louisville lacks the authority to make those kinds of decisions:

“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. 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 it has everything to do with Google, and delaying the company’s deployment of a service that would force AT&T into the strange position of having to compete on price and speed.

According to AT&T, only the Kentucky Public Service Commission and the Federal Communications Commission can make those kinds of decisions. AT&T lawyers trying to argue FCC’s jurisdictional authority is amusing, given AT&T’s spent the better part of the last decade trying to argue the regulator has no authority over broadband whatsoever. AT&T’s worry about legal procedure is equally entertaining, given that this is a company that in the last few years has been busted for defrauding the deaf, defrauding the poor, and defrauding its own customers by making it easier for crammers to rip them off.

For good measure, AT&T’s also claiming that letting third-party contractors touch its utility poles and gear would cause “irreparable harm”:

AT&T alleges in the suit that the city ordinance allows third parties to temporarily seize its property without consent and in most circumstances without prior notice. “Unless the court declares the ordinance invalid and permanently enjoins Louisville Metro from enforcing it, AT&T will suffer irreparable harm that cannot be addressed by recovery of damages.”

Of course, by “seizing” AT&T’s property, AT&T actually means “letting a company move our gear a few inches” so other people can use the poles. AT&T’s real goal, of course, is to bog Google Fiber down in lawsuits so the telco can get a head start in locking locals down in long-term contracts. That’s a lot easier than actually upgrading its network and competing with a new market entry.

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Companies: at&t, google

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Comments on “AT&T Sues To Keep Google Fiber Competition Out Of Louisville”

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DannyB (profile) says:

About AT&T's poles

Even if AT&T owns the poles, aren’t they on land as part of an arrangement that gives AT&T access to all of the properties those poles cross? And wouldn’t that arrangement already include provisions to allow other utilities on those same poles?

After all, in general, we wouldn’t want to have duplicate power distribution systems. Duplicate natural gas distribution systems. Duplicate water systems. Duplicate sewer systems.

If AT&T could provide adequate and competitive service, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: About AT&T's poles--They Aren't AT&T's Poles

Well, as people have pointed out in the Ar Technica thread, telephone poles are actually usually owned by the electric company, and the telephone and cable companies only lease space on them. Electricity involves much more urgent concerns, notably the dangers having to do with high voltage.

In construction terms, telecommunications simply isn’t in the public utility big leagues. The big leagues are electricity, gas, water and sewage, and electrically-powered transportation, eg. street railroads subways, etc. The physical construction of telecommunications is inevitably going to be handled as an incidental to something else. Now, of course, Google ought to think seriously about going down the sewer, and getting through that way. Telecommunications used to have a distinctive field of expertise, in signal switching, but that has been rendered obsolete by small, cheap, powerful computers.

I’ve been reading Asa Briggs, Victorian Cities(1963), and it seems that in the 1850’s, the new manufacturing cities of Northern England (Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, etc.) went through the same kind of messy process to gain control of their water supply which was much too important to be left to profit-seeking businessmen. Too many people were dying in needless cholera, typhoid, and dysentery epidemics (). Every argument you see in Reason Magazine was first presented in the 1830’s– and debunked by experience at the cost of greater or lesser numbers of human lives. It all happened before, in short. Briggs refers to “a Killkenny cat-fight” over water in Leeds. However, the good guys won in the end.

() There is a funny scene in A. J. Cronin’s The Citadel, in which two doctors, faced with a corrupt government in a remote Welsh mining town circa 1930, decide to blow up the defective local sewer, the source of an epidemic, with half a dozen sticks of dynamite. It gets messy sometimes.

OGquaker says:

Re: Re: About AT&T's poles--They Aren't AT&T's Poles

In the 1920’s my great grandfather, grandfather and father worked on the most successful communist power company in California, years before FDR paid for rural electrification. PG&E refused to let them use ‘their’ poles, so the Mersed-Tullair-Don Pedro water district put poles down the other side of the street.
CA farmers had beaten back the corporate monopolist with ‘Common Carrier’ in the constitution of 1879.
In the 1960’s Pop had a patent on utility wire data and TV transmission, so California outlawed ‘pay TV’, and the FCC stepped in and gave gerisection to the city to create ‘cable TV’.
If we put Ham radio back into control of our FCC, these fights will be shorter.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:


“According to AT&T, only the Kentucky Public Service Commission and the Federal Communications Commission can make those kinds of decisions.”

Is it one or both? Didn’t the FCC already make some kind of ruling on competition? All I could find was Net Neutrality stuff. If they did, then isn’t this lawsuit already settled?

Anonymous Coward says:

I find it ridiculous that At&T is actually arguing that it has the right to stifle competition. Government always has the ability to claim “eminent domain” and seize property that is in the interest of the public. Additionally, local, state and federal governments create their own laws that govern the people and AT&T is arguing that Louisville doesn’t have the authority to rewrite its own laws?


Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: Ditch Witch

Well, that is where the sewers come in. They already exist, and are already paid for, and very probably the local sewer district has never entered into any contracts with the telephone or cable companies which might impair its right to do what it likes with its own pipes.

You build a sort of alligator-robot, capable of crawling or swimming as the occasion demands, which travels through the sewers, using something like a staple gun to attach cables to the sewer “roof” every couple of feet.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Ditch Witch

Well, did you ever hear of Chateau Galliard

In the year 1204, most of France was occupied by England. King Phillip II (Philip Augustus) set about taking his own country back, and one of the strong castles in his way was Chateau Galliard, controlling the River Seine just downstream from Paris. Of course the castle had to be taken. So the French soldiers got in by going up the sewage shaft. Vive La France!

Sunhawk says:

Sooo… what exactly is AT&T’s “standard Commercial Licensing Agreement”?

More specifically:

1. What are the clauses in that agreement? (anything regarding competition or that would allow AT&T to control or delay Google Fiber rollout, particularly)

2. How available is that agreement for Google to sign? (“filing cabinet… locked door… ‘beware of the leopard’ comes to mind)

jaack65 (profile) says:

AF&T Temper Tantrums AGAIN?

AT&T is trying to get even for the breakup of its monopoly countrywide into the baby bells. Where are NYNEX or Bell Atlantic or Pacific Tel? Anti-trust is a dirty word around every monopoly. The locations where AT&T doesn’t serve is a monopoly for another cable co like Time Warner or Comcast. Aren’t these poles on PUBLIC LAND to be used for the PUBLIC GOOD???
Stupid restrictions prevent me in Palm Springs from getting any other stations outside of Palm Springs market area except for a 2 hour news block in early AM and rush-hour news casts from 5 PM till 7PM, Then these channels become shopping channels, The noon news is actually recycled morning news footage recorded at 8AM. And even says news report is LIVE saying the time is 808AM but in reality the clock reads 1208 PM, We have NO Los Angeles nor San Diego stations, San Diego which is closer, Our FCC need a good enema to get the crappy rulings from interfering with what RATE PAYERS WANT not the garbage packages we are FORCED to BUY. How many are PAYING to see things we dont want? Add on all these stupid fees & rulings from WW2 500 channels with the same thing being broadcast. Remember Bruce Springsteen song. “57 Channels and NOTHING ON…” is still true Now it has expanded to 500 channels and still NOTHING ON!

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