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Google Fiber Comes To City's Defense In AT&T Suit

John Cummings/Creative Commons

Google Fiber wants to help Louisville Metro government win a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year by AT&T.

Attorneys for Google Fiber last week filed a court briefing that, if approved by a judge, would allow the high-speed Internet service provider to take part in court proceedings and provide its own perspective about the suit filed in February.

The lawsuit stems from a "one touch make ready" ordinance approvedunanimously by the Louisville Metro Council earlier this year. Council members see the move as a way to streamline the process for bringing ultra-fast Internet service to Louisville by reducing the time and work needed to fit new cabling onto existing poles.

Officials for AT&T argue the ordinance is beyond the bounds of the Metro Council.

In the suit, the telecommunications company argues the council lacks the jurisdiction to regulate utility pole attachments. Such an ordinance, the company argues, would cause "irreparable harm" by allowing competitor companies to move existing cabling affixed to utility poles.

Google Fiber says otherwise

Google Fiber's desire to support Louisville in the suit is no surprise. Shortly after the suit was filed, the company issued a statement on its website pledging to confidence "the City's common-sense initiative will be upheld."

In the amicus brief filed October 6, attorneys for Google Fiber claim the ordinance is "a valid exercise of Louisville Metro's unquestioned authority to manage construction activities in public rights-of-way."

Further, the attorneys argue the ordinance will "enhance public safety while reducing disturbance and congestion," while also helping expedite the installation of ultra-high speed Internet infrastructure across the city.

The attorneys claim the traditional process of reading existing utility poles and public rights-of-way for the installation of additional infrastructure is "an inefficient serial approach."

Without the "one touch make ready" ordinance, the attorneys argue, such a process would require multiple visits from technician crews, creating "potentially dangerous conditions for the public."

"Trucks may line the side of the road and block sidewalks on and off for months as the attachers work in sequence," the briefing states.

Attorneys point to the 136 traffic collisions reported by the state transportation cabinet in 2015 as proof that a more efficient, streamlined process is needed in order to rearrange cables on utility poles.

And the attorneys for Google Fiber argue the ordinance is well within the jurisdictional bounds of the Metro Council.

"Because the ordinance goes no farther than the local construction activities of attachers -- and does not contradict any policy of the [public service commission," the briefing states.

The Public Service Commission is the state agency that regulates the service and rates of public utilities. A spokesman for the commission declined to comment.

Google Fiber currently operates in eight cities and is looking to expand to more than 10 additional others, according to their website.

Louisville is one of those potential expansion cities.

Louisville Metro government officials tout fiber Internet connectivity as a key element to fostering economic growth in the city -- the service is faster and cheaper than what's currently available and getting Google Fiber to commit to expanding their network locally is a big part of that effort.

A spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer's office declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The mere speculation that Google Fiber could expand service to Louisville is already prompting other service providers to up their speeds, like AT&T and Time Warner — both of which followed Google Fiber’s announcement with their own news they’d soon begin offering fiber connectivity in Louisville.

A spokesman for AT&T declined to comment on the pending litigation.

'Test Case'

And while Google Fiber is looking to defend Louisville Metro government's stance in the suit, another communications company is looking to stick up for AT&T.

Frontier Communications filed a similar amicus brief earlier this year in favor of AT&T. In that filing, attorneys call the city's "one touch make ready" ordinance an "unprecedented" move.

"The Ordinance strips the utility pole owner of the right to negotiate key terms of access that are designed to minimize disruption and delay to the consumer," Frontier's filing states.

The company contends the outcome of the lawsuit could have nationwide ramifications.

And Jason Hiner, global editor-in-chief of TechRepublic, agrees.

In an interview earlier this year, Hiner said the case could set a precedent for Google Fiber's future expansion.

“It’s a pretty important test case,” he said. “For the future of internet in the U.S., it has pretty huge implications.”

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.

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