Nashville Council Member Admits AT&T & Comcast Wrote The Anti-Google Fiber Bill She Submitted

from the hired-marionettes dept

We’ve been talking about how the next great battlefield in broadband is utility pole attachment reform. In many cities, the incumbent broadband provider owns the utility poles, giving them a perfect opportunity to hinder competitors. In other cities, the local utility or city itself owns the poles, but incumbent ISPs have lobbied for laws making it more difficult for competitors to access them quickly and inexpensively. Google Fiber has been pushing “one touch make ready” rules in several cities aimed at streamlining this bureaucracy by letting a licensed, third-party installer move any ISP’s gear (often a matter of inches).

And while incumbents like AT&T and Comcast will often breathlessly proclaim they’re all for streamlining regulations, in this instance they’re actively preventing the streamlining of these rules in a feeble attempt to slow Google Fiber down. In Louisville, AT&T sued the city after it passed one touch make ready rules. And in Nashville, both Comcast and AT&T have been actively working to prevent Google Fiber from getting similar rules passed. In a recent blog post explaining the stand off, Google Fiber highlights just what this entrenched, anti-competitive regulatory capture looks like in graphical form:

This week Nashville’s city council is planning the final in a series of votes to approve Google Fiber’s one touch make ready rules. But AT&T has already promised to sue the city if Nashville passes the ordinance. Meanwhile AT&T and Comcast have taken another route to try and delay Google Fiber; they’ve urged a Nashville city council member to propose an alternative city resolution that would supplant Google Fiber’s plan with a plan that doesn’t appear to actually do anything outside of stalling the Google Fiber proposal.

Under this alternative “right touch” proposal, pole attachment would see only modest changes, leading Nashville city councilman Jeremy Elrod to deride the move as little more than a last gasp effort by AT&T and Comcast to protect their duopoly fiefdom:

“Google Fiber service and other competitors will be forced to rolling out their service at a trickle, when under the One Touch ordinance it will be like opening the floodgates,” Elrod said in an emailed statement.

“This resolution coming at the last minute, to be considered the same night as third reading of the One Touch bill, just shows it?s the last gasp of Comcast and AT&T, desperately trying to hold on to their top place on the utility pole. “These two companies should not be the gatekeepers that get to decide when and where their customers get access to a competitor, but (a Memorandum of Understanding) like this one enshrines that they stay that way. Comcast and AT&T would win, and competition and consumers would lose.”

AT&T and Comcast’s competing resolution was proposed by Nashville council member Sheri Weiner, who amusingly admits to Ars Technica that the incumbent ISPs wrote the proposal, and while she intended to edit some of it herself, that just didn’t happen:

“I told them that I would file a resolution if they had something that made sense and wasn?t as drastic as OTMR,? Weiner told Ars in an e-mail today, when we asked her what role AT&T and Comcast played in drafting the resolution. Weiner said she is insisting on some changes to the resolution, but the proposal (full text) was submitted without those changes.

When asked why she didn’t put her suggested changes in the version of the resolution published on the council website, Weiner said, ?I had them [AT&T and Comcast] submit it for me as I was out of town all last week on business (my day job).” Weiner said an edited resolution will be considered by the council during its next meeting.

Yeah, whoops-a-daisy. If the AT&T and Comcast proposal passes, it will likely delay Google Fiber’s market entry by a notable margin. If it doesn’t, AT&T will simply sue the city of Nashville, insisting the city council overstepped its authority. Either way, Google Fiber gets delayed thanks to regulatory capture. And note this is all occurring while AT&T lobbyists happily mock Google Fiber for receiving “government favoritism.”

Again, this is all par for the course for American broadband, where beholden lawmakers on every level from city council to state legislature work tirelessly to make sure incumbent ISPs like Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and Charter never have to work too hard, lest the campaign contributions stop flowing. And again, while any day of the week you’ll find these companies’ executives and lobbyists prattling on at length about how they despise “onerous regulation,” when push comes to shove you’ll repeatedly find them aggressively supporting just such regulation — if it protects them from having to actually compete.

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Companies: at&t, comcast, google

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Comments on “Nashville Council Member Admits AT&T & Comcast Wrote The Anti-Google Fiber Bill She Submitted”

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29 Comments
Andy says:

Suggestion.

maybe the council should restrict access to the poles by the big isps and allow google to have full access for a few years under a legal proposal. Treat the big three like they want to treat Google, surely they cannot suddenly argue if they are only allowed to do what they say google should be restricted in doing. I am sure if there are poles that belong to isps that the council can demand they be removed and google could within a week replace them.

And in court they can show how the big isps had access for many years but did not grow the network as they have promised so many times. Let google have the advantage the big isps had for many years.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Suggestion.

Because I’ve worked in this industry, I worry about a few things-

First, someone has to do the Engineering work. This is going to the physical site, creating drawings, determining load factors, sometimes soil samples. Today, it isn’t so much the ISPs job to certify physical infrastructure; towers and such were initially built to satisfy the needs of the company/s who originally installed it. The work itself is very laborious; and takes a PE (Civil Engineer) skillset. They need to be licensed and bonded. If Google hired people to perform this work, it’d likely be faster.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, there’s a question of who actually owns the tower; and in the situation of emergency fix, who would be responsible for paying for a fix; or maintainence. More mature ISPs like AT&T who are looking to provide investors with positive returns (stockmarket) once the network they built is live. Companies like this have decided over the years to transfer ownership of actual infrastructure to third parties.

As an example, if you look at the FCC database, you’ll find companies like AT&T have actually transferred cell tower ownership to strange firms not related to the company’s core business. I remember trying to find the owner of a tower nearby my home and searching FCC database. I was surprised to find out that AT&T didn’t own the tower, (their logo is on the door) but it was actually owned by a company registered with the Secretary of State whom is an AT&T “authorized reseller” located in a mall located four states away. It’s quite possible that similar things have occured in AT&T’s wireline business.

As I dug further, I eventually found a quote from CEO Randall Stephenson famously declared at a public panel the former CEO of AT&T gave him this advice before taking the job as CEO. Whittacre said “Sell everything that isn’t bolted down”.

Next, there’s insurance and indeminifaction issues. When 3rd party “authorized dealer” mall stores own a piece of telecom infrastructure, you have to ask what would satisfy a mall store in the way of insurance and indemnification if anything went awry. Insurance has to be purchased, and underwritten (certified) by an insurance underwriter that feels comfortable with the Civil Engineer’s research. So that person has a job and is probably like 1 in a 5,000,000 people.

Still, it’s no surprise that there’s all this trouble within the industry. AT&T was a good company focused on delivering service. But then, it became incredibly too complicated when the lawyers ultimately took over AT&T.

Anonymous Coward says:

How about a mandatory declaration on all bills that the supposed originators/sponsors actually wrote the darned thing with disclosure of all other ‘contributors’ and mandatory knuckle raps and fines if caught fibbing, with max penalty exclusion from holding public office. Sort of similar to a Sarbox CEO/CFO certification (but obviously different). Or would that be too much to ask of our honorable electeds?

Ninja (profile) says:

If they go for the wireless solution they can render the ‘delay’ significantly harmless by offering the connection via wireless APs around the city while they slowly deploy the fiber. I’m quite sure many will happily jump ship even if it isn’t gigabit simply because the current connections suck badly. The mono/duopolies are mocking the wireless venue as if it’s a failure from Google Fiber but I see it as an opportunity to grab the customers even with all the protectionism and then gradually speed up the deployment speed.

hlk says:

Google Fiber

I’m presently a Google Fiber customer and I’m here to tell you that it ain’t all that great. As a subscriber to both their internet and tv services, I’d give them only 2 stars. Google promised the TV service would have the best features of the other national services but have fallen on their face with that one. Just got another upgrade and it still lacks the features I had with DirectV and TimeWarner.

And the Internet service and the fast speeds depends a lot on what your house is built out of. I’m paying for the high speed but have never seen it at my house. And getting anyone at Google to follow up is almost impossible.

Had issues with my DVR and a tech guy called and told me he would look into it and well, he never called back. Been at least a couple months. They say one thing and most of the time never bother to correspond back.

What gets me is that Google is supposedly the number 1 search engine in all the land on the computer and the search on Google Fiber TV can’t find anything. So if your looking for the best Google ain’t it. Billion dollar tech company using old equipment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Google Fiber

Agreed.

However, in my area, my CLEC is CenturyLink. I setup 1G internet (internet only). They came to the house, ran at least 3 city blocks of fiber from the distributor box to the house.

Anyways, I called to upgrade to 1G from the 100M service. I was only getting 200M up and about 400M down. 400M is not 1G.

They charged a $75 fee to send a tech out. He ran a SpeedTest on my machine. When he saw the results (actually slower– 200M up 200M down) he said it “must be the wiring in the house”. I called and cancelled the next day. They wanted the 2.4GHz (no 5GHz) modem back, but the ONT is still on the wall of the house. It’s worth about $3,500.

The land of Milk-and-honey (Fiber 1G internet) isn’t all it’s marketed to be… I called Comcast while they were troubleshooting the line.
What comcast did was setup a brand new account, activated a cable modem I had planned to sell on eBay, I plugged it into the cable jack and had Comcast setup all before CenturyLink could finish trying giving me a spiel about how great Verizon cell phone service is 😉

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Do not pass GO, do not collect your next paycheck from the public, go straight to Officially working for the ones who own you'

“I told them that I would file a resolution if they had something that made sense and wasn’t as drastic as OTMR,” Weiner told Ars in an e-mail today, when we asked her what role AT&T and Comcast played in drafting the resolution. Weiner said she is insisting on some changes to the resolution, but the proposal (full text) was submitted without those changes.

When asked why she didn’t put her suggested changes in the version of the resolution published on the council website, Weiner said, “I had them [AT&T and Comcast] submit it for me as I was out of town all last week on business (my day job).” Weiner said an edited resolution will be considered by the council during its next meeting.

So the companies both wrote the bill and submitted it for her. Sounds like she needs a swift kick out of office as being unable to do her damn job.

I’d say AT&T and Comcast should just hire someone to write and submit the bills directly, but it seems like they’ve already got their publicly funded stooge in office, and why replace one puppet with another if you don’t have to?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'Do not pass GO, do not collect your next paycheck from the public, go straight to Officially working for the ones who own you'

She didn’t read the fine print in her AT&T contract…

I’m sure there was a gag order in there, and the fact that she publicly stated that they both wrote and submitted the bill will probably result in both $0 campaign contributions from AT&T next election, along with a healthy contribution to whoever is running against here (assuming they will toe the AT&T party line)…

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Do not pass GO, do not collect your next paycheck from the public, go straight to Officially working for the ones who own you'

You’d like to think so, but I imagine the other politicians(even the ones in the opposing party) will brush it under the rug and ignore the little ‘slip of the tongue’. Can’t upset the boat after all, that might affect the chance for them to get a nice ‘campaign contribution’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: 'Do not pass GO, do not collect your next paycheck from the public, go straight to Officially working for the ones who own you'

I don’t know why politicians and corporations bother to worry so much about gag orders these days.

Power is now so ridiculously entrenched, even in cases of proven skulduggery and shenanigans most of them just shrug and move on. What’re the serfs and plebs going to do? Confront them, drag them to the authorities?

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 'Do not pass GO, do not collect your next paycheck from the public, go straight to Officially working for the ones who own you'

Mad idea: stand for office yourself or support and gather support for an outsider. Rinse and repeat. If enough outsiders supplant the incumbents they won’t have the power any more. At this point you need to keep the heat on the new guys to get the laws changed so they don’t just take over where the old guys left off.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You complaining that you didn’t vote for AT&T to write your laws for you? That in fact you elected somebody else to do that? Submitting legislation written by someone else should, IMHO, be an impeachable offense.

Wait, you say, we couldn’t possibly pass all this legislation if we actually had to write it ourselves? That’s the idea.

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