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Frontier Lines Up Against Google Fiber in AT&T Fight Over Utility Pole Access

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An EPB technician installs fiber optic communications lines for a residential customer.Courtesy EPB

On June 24th, Frontier Communications filed an amicus brief on behalf of AT&T in AT&T’s legal battle with the city of Louisville, Kentucky. At issue is what is known as a ‘One Touch Make Ready’ ordinance passed by Louisville, which would allow competitors to install wires on utility poles owned by AT&T without prior approval. Louisville’s ordinance has been referred to as the “Google Fiber Ordinance,” because it is intended to speed Google Fiber’s ongoing deployment there.

The intent of ‘One Touch’ laws is to lower the cost of networks by reducing the need for duplicate work and multiple crews when line is hung on shared utility poles. Such laws have been compared to “dig once” policies that mandate laying fiber optic cables during road construction or similar projects.

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AT&T (T) filed an attempt to overturn Louisville’s law in February, stating that the law oversteps the standard licensing deal it offers Google and other network operators for sharing utility poles. They argue that the authority to regulate pole attachment lies solely with the FCC and state public service regulators. Frontier’s brief supports this view, outlining nationwide ramifications including the potential complexity of mismatched local ordinances, and more fundamentally, the risk that ‘One Touch’ laws could increase service disruptions caused by third parties moving equipment.

But the lawsuit is also in line with ongoing efforts by legacy telecoms to block competition, including lobbying at the state level to prevent cities from building their own broadband networks. Such tactics have contributed to Americans paying more for broadband access than the rest of the developed world, while generally getting less speed for their money.

Google Fiber has described the AT&T lawsuit as “an effort to block Louisville’s efforts to increase broadband and video competition.” Louisville’s mayor has vowed to fight the AT&T lawsuit, saying gigabit fiber is “too important to our city’s future” to be blocked.

For more on Google Fiber vs. AT&T, watch our video.

Slowing Google’s rollout in Louisville in particular would immediately benefit AT&T. AT&T does not offer broadband service, much less the gigabit-speed connections promised by Google Fiber, in much of the city. Though it is planning such services, the fact that a national telecom company still isn’t offering business-critical data services in a major U.S. city in 2016 demonstrates why they’ve had to spend so much energy on legal and legislative defenses of their market share.

Meanwhile, Frontier’s interest in maintaining monopolistic moats became much larger following its troubled takeover of former Verizon fiber-optic networks in California, Florida, and Texas earlier this year.