AT&T Backs Off Nuisance Lawsuit Intended To Hamstring Broadband Competitors Like Google Fiber

from the we-hate-regulation----unless-it-hurts-the-other-guy dept

The boring old utility pole has long been at the heart of this country's broadband dysfunction. As it stands now, competing ISPs looking to deploy fiber need to contact each individual ISP -- and wait for them to finalize layers of paperwork and move their own gear -- before the competitor can attach fiber to the pole. Needless to say, ISPs have often abused this bureaucracy to stall competitors' arrival to market. So over the last few years Google Fiber has convinced several cities to pass "one touch make ready" utility pole reform rules that dramatically streamline this process.

Under these reforms, one licensed, insured contractor (often the same company ISPs already use) is allowed to move any ISPs' gear -- provided they inform the ISP ahead of time and pay for any potential damages. The regulatory change can dramatically speed up fiber deployment, saving numerous months in project delays. That's why Google Fiber convinced cities like Nashville and Louisville to pass these one touch rules a few years ago.

But Nashville and Louisville were subsequently sued by Comcast, Charter and AT&T. The ISPs' lawyers threw out every legal argument they could, including claims that the cities had exceeded their legal authority, that the reforms would dramatically increase service outages, and even that the reforms violated their first amendment rights. Of course the ISPs' real problem is that such reform speeds up the arrival of a concept regional duopolies loathe: actual, genuine competition.

In this case, AT&T's gambit didn't work all that well. Back in August, a Judge killed off AT&T's lawsuit against Louisville, stating the city was well within its legal authority to manage the city's own rights of way (even though AT&T owns 40% of the poles in the city). AT&T appears to have gotten the message, as the telco told news outlets there this week they wouldn't be appealing the ruling:

"AT&T will not appeal a federal judge’s ruling upholding a local law Louisville Metro passed last year to make it easier for new Internet providers like Google Fiber to access utility poles in the city. AT&T spokesman Joe Burgan confirmed the company decided not to appeal U.S. District Judge David Hale’s August 16 ruling upholding the so-called “One Touch Make Ready” ordinance.

The lawsuit still had its intended effect in delaying Google Fiber in Louisville while AT&T worked to lock existing customers there into long-term contracts. Google Fiber meanwhile has been forced to pivot from fiber to wireless/fiber hybrid deployments in part to get around these lawsuits. But the company also managed to use techniques like microtrenching (which involves using machines that bury fiber just a few inches below the road's surface) instead of having to rely on access to utility poles. It's worth noting that a similar Charter lawsuit against Louisville, and AT&T and Comcast lawsuits against Nashville are still pending.

Instead of offering better, faster, cheaper service, these companies' first instinct is almost always to either file nuisance lawsuits, or to quite literally buy state laws that make life harder on would-be competitors. And while you'll often see incumbent broadband duopolies and their policy cronies crying incessantly about "burdensome regulation" while pushing for blind deregulation, the reality is these companies adore regulation -- just as long as it hurts the other guy and slows any attempt to bring competition to bear on a broken market.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2017 @ 6:44am

    They've probably cut out the middle man and gone straight to Pai - expecting some form of announcement in 3.. 2.. 1..

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

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 3 Nov 2017 @ 7:11am

    Anti-SLAPP for Nuisance Suits?

    Why can't there be an Anti-SLAPP-style measure for these types of abusive lawsuits?

    If the defending party can prove that there is a good chance that this lawsuit has no merit and is done only as a delay tactic/nuisance suit, the proposed rule change is not stopped from going into effect AND if the party bringing the lawsuit fails to win, automatic attorney fees for the defending party are paid along with any lost income due to the delay.

    Could use this for retaliatory lawsuits too if its verbiage was expanded a little.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2017 @ 7:34am

    hmmm... Progress?

    While I like the idea of the regulatory change...

    "Under these reforms, one licensed"

    But are we not just creating another fucking monopoly?
    Why are all the solutions to these "anti-monopoly" antics another fucking monopoly? I thought this is what we wanted to avoid?

    We don't want monopolies, but lets create a monopoly to regulation the situation. Brilliant! I guess now we wait to see if this goes sideways like all the rest have!

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

    • icon
      Chris-Mouse (profile), 3 Nov 2017 @ 8:12am

      Re: hmmm... Progress?

      The idea is that Google could hire one company to move both AT&T wires and Comcast wires on the pole to make room for Google's wires. Later, MyISP could come along and hire a different company to move AT&T, Comcast, and Google equipment so as to make room for more wires. Anybody could hire any company to do the work, as long as the company doing the work can show it's qualified to do so, and insured in case they goof up anyway.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2017 @ 8:29am

        Re: Re: hmmm... Progress?

        "Anybody could hire any company to do the work, as long as the company doing the work can show it's qualified to do so, and insured in case they goof up anyway."

        Then the wording needs to be...

        "Under these reforms, 'A' licensed, insured contractor"

        Right? We already have a problem with fuzzy English comprehension all over government.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2017 @ 8:48am

          Re: Re: Re: hmmm... Progress?

          Then the wording needs to be... "Under these reforms, 'A' licensed, insured contractor"

          How about:

          “Any qualified installer…”

          Further:

          Definitions

          a) A “qualified installer” shall be:

                1) licensed, and

                2) insured.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2017 @ 8:56am

          Re: Re: Re: hmmm... Progress?

          The reason "one" is stressed is because without this, you might have to hire multiple and at the other companies' leisure. If there were 3 companies' wires on the pole, and you needed to have all of them moved slightly. You'd contact company A to tell them to move their wire, and then they'd have 90 days to hire who they want and get the work done, and because they're your competition, they'll drag it out and do it towards the end of those 90 days. And then potentially repeat this process with the other 2. With the proposed change, you can just get your one guy to do all three at the same time and on your own time table.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2017 @ 10:05am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: hmmm... Progress?

            The reason "one" is stressed is because …

            “Any qualified installer, whether performing the work alone or in cooperation with other qualified installers, shall be permitted to relocate as necessary all pole-attached equipment and wires, without regard to the ownership thereof.”

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 3 Nov 2017 @ 8:02am

    An inevitability

    SpaceX or others will eventually provide satellite broadband from LEO (not geostationary). Thus the broadband monopoly will eventually end. Maybe not soon. But inevitably. A visionary ISP might recognize this and start planning to actually be competitive. Consider how much people hate Comcast and most ISPs.

    Imagine how people might react to an ISP that doesn't abuse them, do unreasonable throttling, or filtering. Doesn't spy on them. Doesn't sell their browsing history to third parties. Protects your info so that you have way less reason to consider a VPN. Maybe AT&T and others should try to be like this today. Competition is inevitable. Their present monopolies are dictated by terrestrial landlines. The primary limitation on competition from satellites is the initial capital investment to build a competitive network.

    Also consider, satellite ISPs would offer worldwide service. It might even be possible that with many ground stations, a customer's point of connection to internet backbones might originate from any of many different ground stations. THink of how that might upset things. Watching netflix from a different country for example.

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

  • icon
    ZonaZon (profile), 3 Nov 2017 @ 8:29am

    About ISP

    The Internet was developed as a network between government research laboratories and participating departments of universities. By the late 1980s, a process was set in place towards public, commercial use of the Internet.

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

  • icon
    Jeff Green (profile), 3 Nov 2017 @ 9:30am

    Appaling!

    Surely this sort of action cannot be permitted, I would strongly recommend the lawyers now missing out on years of regular pay days sue someone straight away!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2017 @ 10:47am

    The management practices of the Inc formerly known as Southwestern Bell Corporation are not, have never been, and will never be customer friendly. The stockholders, the management team, and the BoD will always insure this. These people hold their customers in contempt and will never let you forget. Like all organizations, this Inc will always be managed to benefit those managers.

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


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