Nashville Advances Proposal To Let Google Fiber In Despite AT&T, Comcast Protests

Image courtesy of Adam Fagen

Google Fiber wants to come to Nashville. Nashville wants to let it. But incumbent providers — AT&T and Comcast — really hate letting more competitors horn in on their game. And all of that is the stage upon which this week city politicians advanced their proposal to let Google Fiber come to town.

This week, as local media WKNO and The Tennessean [warning: autoplay video] report, the Nashville Metro Council voted to advance a piece of legislation that will allow Google to bring infrastructure to town… despite legal threats from the incumbents.

Let’s backtrack: the last few months have been a big of a high-drama saga — at least, as far as utility infrastructure is concerned — down in Music City.

When the city council first proposed the change to pole access regulations, Comcast and AT&T started throwing out every excuse under the sun for how the proposal — which they had as yet not even seen — would ruin absolutely everything.

At the time, AT&T claimed that the one touch rule would disrupt its agreement with unionized workers, and claimed the FCC, not local government, was the entity that had authority over the city’s telecom infrastructure rules.

Comcast, meanwhile, settled for trying to kick the can down the road, saying at the time, “we believe that the appropriate next step would be to conduct a meeting of stakeholders,” which meeting “should be accomplished prior to any proposed legislation.”

Google apparently can’t come to Nashville without it; the city is mostly built on hard limestone soil that nobody can bury wires through. That means utility poles, and getting a new competitor on them means tweaking existing rules.

So, a couple of weeks later, Nashville mayor Megan Barry called that bluff, and asked the stakeholders to all come together and sort things out like grown-ups.

That meeting happened a couple of weeks ago, The Tennessean reports, and ended with absolutely no solution. During the meeting, Google reportedly pushed for compromise, but AT&T and Comcast sought to avoid legislation.

The city council, however, apparently does not care what Comcast and AT&T think. The council voted last night in an overwhelming 32-7 majority to advance the one-touch proposition.

Coucnilman Anthony Davis said of the vote that residents, who have been calling and e-mailing the council, “want a solution and they want it now.”

Another council member advocated for a delay, on the (true) grounds that AT&T is certain to sue the city if the bill passes. However, WKNO reports, yet another council member, Jeremy Elrod, countered that the city “should not give in to a ‘bullying’ lawsuit.”

Clearly, 31 of the other Council members agreed.

According to the city’s legal procedures, the bill must pass one more vote — scheduled for Sept. 20 — for final clearance, at which point it would then go to the mayor’s desk to be signed. After that, though, the city can almost certainly expect major challenges.

Metro Law director Jon Cooper told the council that based on conversations he has had with AT&T lawyers, a lawsuit is all but inevitable. “If this ordinance passes with the amendment that Google is in support of, we will be sued,” Cooper said. “I’m 100 percent sure of that.”

In statements to The Tennessean, Comcast and AT&T both expressed “disappointment” with the Council’s vote, and reiterated their earlier positions.

An AT&T spokesperson doubled down on the “trouble with unions” position, saying, “the ordinance is at odds with our collective bargaining agreement with the (Communications Workers of America), our joint use contract with NES and even the contract we have with Google.”

A Comcast spokesperson said the vote, “sends an unfortunate message to both current and future businesses looking to invest in Nashville. Instead of the Council adopting One Touch, pole owners and attachers should agree upon standards and processes to collectively address issues.”

However, at least one Council member seemed to have had enough of calls to “negotiate” that go nowhere.

“The bottom line is, nobody wants this not to happen,” WKNO reports Councilwoman Sheri Weiner as saying. “But we want a comprehensive solution, and we would like it to come from the players. You can’t come and ask us for legislation and then sit down and say I’m not going to talk.”

Google Fiber’s Nashville proposal clears key vote [The Tennessean]
Google Fiber Goes To Final Vote In Nashville, But A Lawsuit Is Waiting [WKNO]

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