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Comcast yesterday sued the Nashville metro government and mayor to stop a new ordinance designed to give Google Fiber faster access to utility poles.
Comcast’s complaint in US District Court in Nashville (full text) is similar to one already filed by AT&T last month. Both ISPs are trying to invalidate a One Touch Make Ready ordinance that lets new ISPs make all of the necessary wire adjustments on utility poles themselves instead of having to wait for incumbent providers like AT&T and Comcast to send work crews to move their own wires. The ordinance was passed largely to benefit Google Fiber, which is offering service in Nashville but says that it hasn’t been able to deploy faster because it is waiting to get access to thousands of poles.
Nearly all the Nashville utility poles are owned either by the municipal Nashville Electric Service or AT&T. Because Comcast has wires on many of the poles, it has some control over how quickly Google Fiber can expand its network. When Google Fiber wants to attach wires to a new pole, it needs to wait for ISPs like Comcast to move their wires to make room for Google Fiber’s.
The Nashville One Touch Make Ready ordinance “permits third parties to move, alter, or rearrange components of Comcast’s communications network attached to utility poles without Comcast’s consent, authorization, or oversight, and with far less notice than is required by federal law and by an existing Comcast contract with Metro Nashville,” Comcast’s complaint said. Comcast asked the court to declare the ordinance invalid and permanently enjoin Nashville from enforcing it.
The pre-existing Make Ready process “seek[s] to ensure that all providers can share available pole space cooperatively and safely, without interfering with or damaging any provider’s equipment or services,” Comcast said. The new procedures mandated by Nashville “are so intrusive that, tellingly, Metro Nashville has wholly exempted its own utility pole attachments from the Ordinance’s coverage.”
Specifically, the ordinance exempts Nashville government pole attachments “that consist of cameras, radios, or any equipment used for emergency communications,” and equipment used for traffic signals.
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry defended the ordinance in a statement to The Tennessean.
“One Touch Make Ready has been litigated in the court of public opinion, and the public overwhelmingly supports this measure designed to speed up the deployment of high-speed fiber in Nashville,” Barry said. “Now, we hope that this federal litigation is quickly resolved so that we can get on with the business of expanding access to gigabit Internet throughout Davidson County.”
Nashville’s ordinance says that the Federal Communications Commission’s pole attachment orders do not address One Touch Make Ready rules, giving the metro government “the right to address one touch make ready within its boundaries.”
There is a similar fight going on in Louisville, Kentucky, where AT&T and Charter have both sued the local government to stop a utility pole ordinance.
Google Fiber announced layoffs yesterday and will “pause” or end fiber operations in 10 cities where it was considering whether to build new networks. But the Alphabet-owned ISP said it would continue operations in Nashville and still plans to build a network in Louisville.
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