The city of Louisville, Ky., has been bending over backward to woo high-speed services like Google Fiber to town. But now those efforts might have hit a snag as AT&T slaps the local government with a big lawsuit.
The telecom carrier is suing over a new city law, which was passed this month, that makes it easier for Internet providers to string their lines on utility poles. The law lets companies such as Google Fiber move other providers' equipment on the pole, in order to make room for their own.
But AT&T says the city government never had the power to write such a law.
"The ordinance conflicts with and is preempted by the pole attachment regulations of the Federal Communications Commission," AT&T said in the suit, which was obtained by WDRB.com, Louisville's local Fox affiliate. "In addition, Louisville Metro had no authority to adopt the ordinance, because Kentucky law gives the Kentucky Public Service Commission exclusive jurisdiction to regulate pole attachments."
AT&T added that its utility-pole rights were granted by the Kentucky state legislature in the 1880s, implying that it would take a state-level decision to implement Louisville's policy legally.
Google Fiber hasn't even begun building in Louisville, which is partly why this case is so important. Louisville is one of several cities in which Google Fiber is considering an expansion. The company's approach effectively requires cities to compete for Google Fiber on the basis of how friendly their policies are.
"Google Fiber is disappointed that AT&T has gone to court in an effort to block Louisville's efforts to increase broadband and video competition," the company said in a blog post Friday. "We are confident the City's common-sense initiative will be upheld."
AT&T said its suit is not about Google Fiber per se, but about local regulation. This is technically true. But If AT&T's lawsuit is successful, it will make Louisville that much less attractive to Google Fiber, possibly delaying the company's entry there.
Meanwhile, AT&T has announced its intention to launch its own answer to Google Fiber in Louisville, meaning a court victory could give it a head start.
"While we would welcome Google as a competitor, we feel they should play by the same rules that bind everyone else," said Hood Harris, Kentucky state president of AT&T. "In this case, we feel the city council's action in giving Google special rights and privileges violates the law."
Louisville's law is based on a concept known as "one-touch make ready," which proposes letting one contractor move all the old cables on utility poles and install any new ones — at the same time. The current system, critics say, requires multiple visits by multiple companies to multiple poles just to add a new line.
"Sending in separate crews is time-consuming and disruptive to local communities and municipal governments," according to Next Century Cities, an organization that supports community broadband. "One-touch make-ready polices would ease this burden."