AT&T, Comcast Fight Utility Pole Reform To Slow Google Fiber's Arrival In Nashville

from the get-the-hell-out-of-the-way dept

We've talked a few times about how incumbent broadband providers often use their ownership of city utility poles (or their "ownership" of entire city councils and state legislatures) to slow Google Fiber's arrival in new markets. In California and Texas, AT&T has often been accused of using the process of pole attachment approval to intentionally block or slow down the arrival of competitors. AT&T also recently sued the city of Louisville for streamlining utility pole attachment rules intended to dramatically speed up the time it takes to attach new fiber to poles.

This week this fight extended into Nashville, where Comcast and AT&T are again fighting pole attachment reform. Google Fiber supports "one touch make ready" pole attachment rules, which lets a licensed, insured third party contractor move any ISP's gear on a utility pole (often a matter of inches) to install new fiber. Being incumbents with networks already deployed, Comcast, AT&T and Charter obviously have a vested interest in making sure this doesn't happen. As such, they've started loudly bitching about Google Fiber to local Nashville news outlets:
"Just because you spell your name with eight different colors doesn’t mean you can’t play by the rules that everybody else has to fucking play by,” says one operative, venting about Google’s reputation for wooing local officials in various cities into accommodating the company.
These incumbents have, as a refresher, spent a generation paying for, writing and lobbying for state and local rules that make it hard or impossible to actually compete with them. That anybody would believe these companies' complaints about "fairness" is dumbfounding, yet given their political power, these arguments go much further than they should. AT&T, for example, is telling Nashville politicians they only oppose Google Fiber's reform plan because they care so much about unions:
“While we have not seen the proposed ordinance, we are concerned that a make-ready ordinance would interfere with our contractual commitment to have our skilled employees represented by the Communications Workers of America perform make-ready work on our behalf,” says AT&T Tennessee spokesperson Joe Burgan. “Beyond that, we have serious concerns with other companies being allowed to perform work on our facilities without providing us notice, which could put service reliability and public safety at risk in some circumstances. Additionally, jurisdiction to regulate pole attachments rests with the FCC, and municipalities have no authority under federal or state law to enact the ordinance being proposed here.”
To be very clear, such "one touch make ready" reform rules are broadly supported as a way to speed up broadband deployment. Contrary to AT&T's claim, under most implementations of these rules, incumbent ISPs still receive forewarning about upcoming work, they just have to respond and approve (or reject, with reasons) these requests on a much shorter time scale so they can't use the system to unfair advantage. And it's not "other companies" performing the work, it's independent, licensed and insured third party contractors that have already been doing this kind of work all over the country -- often for the incumbents themselves.

These are the same companies that bitch endlessly about "burdensome regulations," yet consistently write, lobby for and pass regulations that hinder competitors from disrupting the market. In this case, AT&T's next likely step is to file a lawsuit against Nashville just as it did in Louisville, all the while pretending (despite a generation of contradictory evidence) it's just a stickler for level playing fields.

Filed Under: broadband, competition, fiber, google fiber, incumbents, nashville, pole attachments
Companies: at&t, comcast, google


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 3:44am

    You are missing something very important. It is not generally the Telcos themself but the union representing the workers that opposes such changes. The Telcos would LOVE to replace their highly paid union workforce with a lower paid contracter based workforce.

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

    • identicon
      Lesath, 5 Aug 2016 @ 4:53am

      Re:

      The Telcos would LOVE to replace their highly paid union workforce with a lower paid contracter based workforce.

      As far as I know there is no law preventing them from doing so.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 5:01am

        Re: Re:

        In fact, many corporations are joyfully doing so as we type.

        btw, an on demand economy would be an unmitigated disaster.

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

      • icon
        Falindraun (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 6:30am

        Re: Re:

        except that when the telcos attempt to think about replacing the unions, the unions just line the telcos pockets with cash (stolen from their workers) and the telco forgets all about doing anything but what the union demands

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 4:59am

      Re:

      Yeah sure, very convincing. With all that supporting evidence and all, how could anyone not take your word for it.

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

    • icon
      Christopher (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 5:31am

      Unions? No.

      Once you go on-premises at a LEC, they care. Poles? Nope. Best thing a municipality can do is exercise eminent domain and own the poles. You can sub the maintenance of the poles out to a bidder, which is like NOTHING, then lease attachment to the utilities.

      I wonder how much they pay in taxes for those poles...

      -C

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 9:10am

      Re:

      Perhaps then everyone should contact their unions in addition to contacting the telcos and our politicians about the issue.

      Contact Comcast, AT&T and their unions and say something like the following

      "You guys don't really care about the 'rules' you dirtbags. The only thing you care about is maintaining your selfishly bought monopoly."

      Who are in charge of these unions, how can we contact them? Lets get pictures of them, if we happen to see them someplace we should let them know how outraged we are at them (though this doesn't mean we should stock them). If everyone does it, if everywhere they go they receive these kinds of comments about how outraged people are at them, the message will get through that no one is happy. They make our lives miserable we get to collectively make their lives miserable in return. The police can't arrest everyone everywhere that simply wishes to comment so if enough people voice their opinion and everywhere they go there are new people that know who they are and are annoyed at what they are doing then the message will get through.

      Contact Comcast and AT&T lobbyists. Lobby the lobbyists. Lets get their names and put their pictures out there. Let everyone know. We can start a website, most hated lobbyists of the month.

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

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 3:59am

    "Just because you spell your name with eight different colors doesn’t mean you can’t play by the rules that everybody else has to fucking play by"

    I'm not sure which is better, the fact that he thinks that the number of colours on a logo make any difference to how the company operates or the fact that he thinks Google has 6 letters. Maybe he's thinking of Alphabet, but that logo has one colour, so by his reasoning they're 5 times more likely to "play by the rules" than Google. Oh, and apart from the sweary rant:

    "venting about Google’s reputation for wooing local officials in various cities into accommodating the company"

    Does he think that none of the other companies do this?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 4:57am

    Corporations - in favor of unbridled capitalism ... except when they're not.

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

  • icon
    Berenerd (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 5:13am

    I love the FCC card they play to defend their poles while at the same time they want the FCC to butt out of their Monopolies.

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

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 5 Aug 2016 @ 8:24am

    Pitching Woo

    "wooing local officials in various cities into accommodating the company."

    Ahhh... I see... when its their woo its ok... but let google spend some woo money and all of a sudden it's somehow wrong.

    "doesn’t mean you can’t play by the rules that everybody else has to fucking play by"
    As I see it... Mr. Operative.... they are doing exactly that. Stings a little huh?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 8:41am

    I've said this before and I'll say it again.

    It's sad how it takes a company with such deep pockets like Google to maybe overcome the huge and expensive political barriers to entering a new market. Shows how much money controls politics.

    How is anyone without such deep pockets expected to get anything done?

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

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 9:36am

    Level playing field

    all the while pretending (despite a generation of contradictory evidence) it's just a stickler for level playing fields.


    They DO believe in a level playing field... just one where THEY set the level. ;)

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

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 10:05am

    Do the incumbent telcos have the Unions so deep in their pockets that that Unions aren't getting upset about all the new money and new contracts that someone like Google would bring in?

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 5 Aug 2016 @ 1:37pm

    I wonder what electric transmission companies have to say about it.

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

    • identicon
      Angetenar, 6 Aug 2016 @ 6:55am

      Re:

      I wonder what electric transmission companies have to say about it.

      I haven't heard them complaining. It seems to just be the companies on the pole that would compete with Google that have a problem with it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2016 @ 5:46pm

    I never figured out why in 21 century utilitiy companies pay no rent for using public streets for poles. They charge each other. That may have been fine in Victorian times when electricity was a marvel desired by the masses, but I see no reason cable company I never use gets free expensive public real estate at my expense.

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

    • identicon
      Spica, 6 Aug 2016 @ 7:10am

      Re:

      I never figured out why in 21 century utilitiy companies pay no rent for using public streets for poles.

      Having electric power is usually seen as a public benefit, thus they are not charged for the public utility right of way. In some areas , though, the poles are actually publicly owned. Such as where the power company is publicly owned. I believe this is the case in Austin, Texas, for example, which may be part of why Google chose to install fiber there.

      I see no reason cable company I never use gets free expensive public real estate at my expense.

      In most cases the cable companies pay a small pole rental fee (attachment fee) for each pole. This fee, however, is usually far, far below market value. It just lets the cable companies claim that they "pay for it".

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2016 @ 1:23pm

      Re:

      but I see no reason cable company I never use gets free expensive public real estate at my expense.

      Either the utility companies get a free right of way, or you pay you portion of whatever they pay for it, plus accounting costs plus an element of profit, in your utility bills. So unless you use no utilities at all, charging them will cost you more money for the utilities that you do use.

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

    • icon
      Avatar28 (profile), 8 Aug 2016 @ 9:04am

      Re:

      The poles are all owned by Nashville Electric Service (which is a public utility owned by the city). It wouldn't make a lot of sense for the city to pay rent to itself.
      http://nespower.com/about.html

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


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