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Louisville Metro Council OKs 'Google Fiber Ordinance'

John Cummings/Creative Commons

An ordinance meant to streamline the process for bringing ultra-fast Internet service to Louisville won easy approval Thursday from the Metro Council.

City leaders have said ultra-fast Internet access can boost Louisville’s economy. Google Fiber is considering Louisville for its coveted service, and AT&T has announced plans to operate ultra-fast Internet in the city.

The ordinance, called the "one-touch make ready" policy, affects companies and utilities needing to attach new cabling to existing utility poles. It allows contractors to rearrange existing equipment as long as they submit certain notices to the owners of the equipment and the utility pole.

The new law is expected to reduce the time and work needed to fit new cabling onto existing poles, said Ted Smith, chief of innovation for Louisville Metro.

The 23 present council members voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.

Under the ordinance, companies or utilities wishing to attach new cabling to existing utility poles may do so if they submit notice to the owner of the pole and other affected equipment within 30 days of completion of the work. A prior notice of work must only be submitted if the work is expected to result in any power outage for consumers, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance also allows the owners of the existing infrastructure to conduct an inspection of the work within 14 days of its completion date. The inspection would be paid for by the entity that attached the new infrastructure.

If the inspection shows any repairs need to be conducted or fails to meet the pole owner's standards, the owner may complete the repairs themselves or have the entity attaching the new infrastructure do it. Whichever option is chosen, the entity attaching the new infrastructure will be required to cover any and all costs of the work.

Councilman Kevin Kramer, Republican from District 11, said ultra-fast Internet service providers need these types of policies to efficiently install necessary infrastructure.

"At the end of the day, it's great for Louisville. It makes things possible for Google, but it also opens the door for competition," he said.

Councilman Bill Hollander, a Democrat from District 9 and the ordinance's sponsor, said the measure is an integral step for advancing Louisville's ability to remain competitive in the future.

Smith said the ordinance allows the city to clear a major barrier to attracting ultra-fast Internet service providers.

"It makes it predictable to do business in Louisville," he said.

Chris Levendos, director of network deployment and operations for Google Fiber, said the ordinance isn't just important for bringing his company to Louisville but all ultra-fast Internet service providers.

"It makes things go smoother," he said. "There is nothing exclusive here."

He also noted it's a practical move, as it decreases the intrusiveness of high-volume construction work with heavy trucks and traffic congestion.

The ordinance was the subject of controversy throughout Thursday, ultimately leading to an amendment calling for the requirement to submit a notice within 30 days of work completed.

Representatives of Time Warner Cable and AT&T came out in opposition of the ordinance, voicing concerns the entities would be left in the dark about adjustments to their property --utility poles -- that could lead to a loss of service to their customers.

The president of the local communications workers union, Matthew Embry, also had concerns the ordinance would violate contractual agreements the worker's union has with AT&T.

He said Local 3310 workers are the only people authorized to adjust or work on AT&T utility lines. Bringing in independent contractors to do the work would undermine that deal, he said.

"We have no problem with inviting Google into the marketplace," he said. "Our main concern is to ensure our agreement with AT&T is not circumvented by this legislation."

But council President David Yates, a Democrat from District 25, said the union workers will have plenty to do under the approved ordinance, as they'll be called to inspect nearly 20,000 utility poles owned by AT&T following potential adjustments by ultra-fast Internet providers.

"It's going to create work right then and there," he said. "All around the base we have increased jobs, increased work."

The council also approved an ordinance creating an agreement between Louisville Metro and suburban cities to condense the franchise-granting authority for communication services into a single entity.

Under the agreement, local governments and Louisville Metro will together bid and award the telecommunication franchise for ultra-fast Internet access.

Smith said securing the agreement clears a major logistical barrier to bringing fiber Internet to residents. Without the agreement, the franchise would have to be negotiated with dozens of government entities in Jefferson County.

In a released statement, Mayor Greg Fischer praised the council's action.

"Tonight's vote puts Louisville one step closer toward becoming a Google Fiber city -- and lays the groundwork for expansion of gigabit services by other providers," Fischer said.

The city is expected to begin soliciting applications for ultra-fast Internet service providers as soon as next week.

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.