AT&T Taking Nashville To Court To Try To Slow Down Google Fiber

Image courtesy of C x 2

They said they’d do it, and so, by gum, they’re doing it: Surprising basically nobody, AT&T has filed a lawsuit against the city of Nashville and its officials, seeking to block a recently-passed law that would make it possible for Google Fiber to come to town.

The lawsuit is just the latest step in a saga that’s been unfolding for months. The city of Nashville first proposed a one-touch law over the summer. Comcast and AT&T objected strenuously, because having actual competition in town, driving down prices and perhaps siphoning consumers away, is not in their best interest.

The Metro Council looked at Comcast and AT&T’s objections, saw their threats to sue over it, and then went ahead and passed the ordinance anyway, and mayor Megan Barry signed it into law earlier this week. So, AT&T’s making good on their threat.

The complaint (PDF) can’t actually say, “we just really don’t want to compete with Google,” because that’s not a legal argument. Instead, AT&T has to lay out arguments why the ordinance is actually unlawful, so it gives three reasons.

Number one: it “conflicts with and is preempted by the pole attachment regulations of the Federal Communications Commission.” This one is an interesting claim because since 2011, the FCC has been undertaking procedures to make the pole attachment process as cheap, quick, and efficient as possible for new broadband competitors.

Reason two is more local: AT&T claims the ordinance is “invalid as a matter of Tennessee law because it conflicts with Metro Nashville’s Charter,” which is one for Tennessee law experts to hash out.

And reason three? “The ordinance impairs AT&T’s existing contract with Metro Nashville” in violation of clauses in both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions.

AT&T’s agreement with the city, that gives it the right to hang its wires from the utility poles in town, dates from 1958 — the Ma Bell era. In that contract, which AT&T helpfully provided to the court, the city agreed that, “[e]xcept as herein otherwise expressly provided, each party shall place, maintain, rearrange, transfer and remove its own attachments.”

Therefore, AT&T argues, since the 1958 contract is the one under which it still operates in town, by letting anyone else (i.e., Google) touch their wires, Nashville is in violation of their agreement.

After laying out its three legal arguments, AT&T concludes that unless the court declares the new rule invalid and prohibits the city from informing it, “AT&T will suffer irreparable harm that cannot be redressed by recovery of damages.”

The argument is basically the same one AT&T made when it filed suit against Louisville in February. In fact, this statement in the Nashville complaint:

“The Ordinance thus purports to permit a third party (the Attacher) to temporarily seize AT&T’s property, and to alter or relocate AT&T’s property, without AT&T’s consent and with little notice”

is almost word-for-word identical to the complaint it made against Louisville earlier this year, when AT&T said:

“The Ordinance thus purports to permit a third party… to temporarily seize AT&T’s property, and to alter or relocate AT&T’s property, without AT&T’s consent and, in most circumstances, without prior notice to AT&T.”

The Louisville case is still in process, and Charter has joined AT&T in objecting to the possibility of Google coming to town.

It’s anyone’s guess how long the Nashville case will take to play out. In the meantime, Google has promised legal help to Nashville in fighting the Battle Of The Giant Corporations.