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Louisville 'Google Fiber Ordinance' May Violate State Law, Public Service Commission Says

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A proposed Louisville Metro Council ordinance aimed at easing the installation of ultra-fast Internet infrastructure could lead to a violation of state law, says a spokesman for the Kentucky Public Service Commission.

The ordinance, which the council is expected to consider on Thursday, would allow anyone needing to attach new cabling to utility pole to rearrange existing cables with notice. The legislation sailed through a council committee earlier this month.

The ordinance could help attract ultra-fast Internet providers, including Google Fiber, to Louisville.

Councilman Bill Hollander, a District 9 Democrat who sponsored the ordinance, said it would "reduce disruption and inconveniences on our streets and make the whole process faster, and make the community more broadband-ready."

An attorney representing Time Warner Cable is questioning the legality of such a measure, saying the council lacks legal authority to regulate equipment attached to utility poles, The Courier-Journal reported Thursday.

And he may be right.

The ordinance, as it currently stands, has the potential to violate state law, said Andrew Melnykovych, a spokesman for the Kentucky Public Service Commission.

"It's not a matter of if the ordinance is illegal or not, it's what happens after the ordinance passes," he said early Thursday afternoon. "The ordinance should not be construed as overriding PSC jurisdiction."

The PSC is the state agency that regulates the service and rates of public utilities.

Melnykovych's statement altered his earlier stance. On Thursday morning, he said the ordinance would violate state law because the PSC has exclusive jurisdiction over utility poles.

"The ultimate jurisdiction over pole attachments rests with the Public Service Commission," he said. "The test will be how do people put that ordinance in to pracitce."

Melnykovych said the PSC does not have authority over Time Warner's utility poles.

But the utility poles owned by Louisville Gas & Electric and AT&T of Kentucky are under the PSC's jurisdiction. It's the state agency's authority to dictate what and how equipment is attached to those poles, he said.

He said the PSC has procedures allowing Internet service providers to attach needed infrastructure to standing poles.

"That spells out how you hang it, how much it will cost you for the privilege of hanging it and anybody, Google or whoever else it is, that wants to use another companies infrastructure to hang their fiber or whatever it is, there is a process to doing that," he said. "Anybody that wants to do it has to follow the process."

Hollander said he is unaware of the ordinance's conflict with PSC regulations.

"We went through the normal process of working with the Jefferson County Attorney," he said. "A municipality has a right to control work in its rights-of-way."

Neither Ted Smith, the city's chief of innovation, nor Time Warner's attorney responded Thursday to a request for comment.

Councilman Kevin Kramer, a District 11 Republican and chair of the Republican caucus, echoed the notion that the council followed the guidance of the Jefferson County Attorney's Office.

"That's not to say that every time we pass something there's not an issue that might come up again later," he said. "It is something we might have to deal with."

A spokeswoman for the county attorney's office said the ordinance is not meant to circumvent PSC regulations.

This story has been updated.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.