A dispute between a telecom giant and a municipal pawn in Google's gigabit-fiber plans has led to a three-way lawsuit buttressed by political posturing. Depending upon who wins, the legal donnybrook portends bad news for cities wanting to update their infrastructure to gigabit fiber. Additionally, legacy telcos may see compliance and equipment-monitoring costs increase as they try to mitigate downtime caused by carpetbaggers tinkering with their equipment.
It all started when Louisville, Ken., was named a potential recipient for a citywide deployment of Google's gigabit fiber service, Google Fiber.
In February, to accommodate Google Fiber Inc. , the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro government passed Ordinance No. O-427-15 which purportedly gives third parties broad leeway in moving and adjusting equipment already sitting on utility poles in Louisville, with minimal notice requirements. Much of that existing equipment belongs to AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T).
Plotting the Course
This map shows the present, future and potential path of Google Fiber -- and, perhaps, battleground cities. (Source: Google)
A lawsuit against the city quickly followed -- with AT&T requesting that a federal judge strike down the ordinance because, inter alia
, it contradicts state law and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations. According to AT&T's claim
, the ordinance removes FCC-bestowed power from AT&T in granting 60- to 135-day time limits to modify its own pole attachments and instead gives that power to third parties (like Google) to come in before the FCC's deadline passes and unilaterally make adjustments to AT&T's network equipment -- in some cases only having to give notice after
adjustments occur. AT&T further asserts that too many cooks are in the regulatory kitchen, claiming the ordinance unlawfully usurps regulatory power over utility poles from the Kentucky Public Service Commission.
The city, however, is not backing down. "We will vigorously defend the lawsuit filed today by AT&T," Louisville mayor Greg Fischer tweeted last month. "[Gigabit] fiber is too important to our city's future."
Practical as AT&T's elucidated concerns might be, the lawsuit may be a ploy to delay Google while AT&T rushes to be first-to-market with its own gigabit-fiber service in Louisville. Earlier this month, AT&T told some Louisville neighborhoods it soon would lay fiber optic cable for its service, GigaPower, according to WDRB. The service will be operational within the year across Louisville, Hood Harris, president of AT&T Kentucky, told the local news station.
Understanding it must wage a PR battle as well as a legal one, AT&T published a FAQ
explaining its side of the lawsuit and attacking Google for deciding "they no longer want to play by the rules that bind everyone else, seeking instead special rights and privileges... that violate state and federal law..."
AT&T further suggests its union-represented contractors would be hurt most by Louisville's proposed actions. Indeed, the Communication Workers of America Local 3310 has publicly opposed the ordinance. The day before the Louisville City Council voted, the CWA attempted to rally its base to fight against the proposal for putatively violating the union's collective-bargaining agreement with the city.
"The ordinance will allow non-CWA workers... to begin rearranging sections of our network infrastructure to make room for Google fiber," reads a February 10 statement from the union. "CWA opposes this ordinance in [its] current form because it would allow the blatant violation of contractual language that has been fought for by generations of telephone workers."
On March 9, CWA solidified its alliance with AT&T by filing a motion to intervene in the telco's case against Louisville.
While not a party in the lawsuit, Google is hardly standing still -- asserting in a blog post that both the company and the ordinance merely seek to cut through traditional telecom bureaucracy. Whether it prevails or not, AT&T's suit makes clear that regulatory streamlining may be vital to removing legal delays from improvements to municipal data infrastructure.
— Joe Stanganelli, Freelance Contributor. Follow him on Twitter @JoeStanganelli. Special to The New IP