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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Filed Under: broadband, competition, google fiber, louisville, pole attachments
Companies: at&t, google, time warner cable


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 3:49am

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

    Now this is a case where I'm all for eminent domain

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      mcinsand, 19 Feb 2016 @ 5:07am

      eminent domain probably got the poles installed, in the first place

      If Eminent Domain was used to originally appropriate the space for the poles, then emphasizing the public's interest in those poles would be appropriate when adding another supplier provides clear public benefit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 5:14am

        Re: eminent domain probably got the poles installed, in the first place

        "then emphasizing the public's interest in those poles"

        You mean "their poles"?
        Yeah - the ones they think they own.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      WDS (profile), 19 Feb 2016 @ 8:04am

      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".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Capt ICE Enforcer, 19 Feb 2016 @ 3:52am

    Smoke and mirrors

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Capt ICE Enforcer, 19 Feb 2016 @ 3:53am

      Re: Smoke and mirrors

      Google... I hate this phones auto correct.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Bruce, 19 Feb 2016 @ 4:41am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 5:17am

        Re: Re: Smoke and mirrors

        Good argument for stifling competition, right?
        Like the other providers have no intention of doing that sort of thing. Because they are looking out for your best interests - right?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 19 Feb 2016 @ 3:59am

    Talk about pole dancing...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    charliebrown (profile), 19 Feb 2016 @ 4:21am

    Australia (Again)

    And to think our state government is looking to privatise our polls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 5:13am

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 5:25am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 5:44am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Feb 2016 @ 5:43am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 7:25am

    If Google is receiving so much resistance from incumbents, with all their resources and political influence, imagine the political barriers a startup with fewer resources must overcome to get permission to do anything. No wonder why there is so little broadband competition and broadband sucks in America.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 8:00am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 7:38am

    AT&T added the plan violates their union agreements with workers on who has a right to install or alter their equipment...

    Oh, I'm sorry. At what point were we (the city council) supposed to be worried about your agreements with third parties?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 8:13am

      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).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 9:05pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 7:54am

    "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."

    Someone needs to name and shame the locations responsible for hindering competition. Which of your politicians are being bought and paid for?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 19 Feb 2016 @ 8:05am

    Seems about right.

    As it stands, it can take up to six months to get these companies to sign off on letting a competitor access city poles


    Are they using one of their own connections to download the documents?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 8:17am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 9:35am

    Union Agreements

    If this violates AT&T's union agreements, that's a private issue for AT&T to settle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Monkey (profile), 19 Feb 2016 @ 12:26pm

    Terrifying

    ...AT&T and Time Warner Cable find themselves on unfamiliar ground: having to actually compete on speed, customer service, and price. Terrifying.


    For the fat and lazy "we have everything WE want" companies, having to actually put forth effort... terrifying indeed!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2016 @ 7:01pm

    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..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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