Comcast Joins AT&T, Sues Nashville To Slow Down Google Fiber Construction

Image courtesy of Adam Fagen

The “fun” in Nashville never ends… at least, not for lawyers who enjoy suing the city. They’ve got plenty of work ahead of them, now that Comcast is joining the “let’s sue Nashville to block new competition” club.

As Ars Technica spotted, Comcast has filed a lawsuit against Nashville this week seeking to block a recently-passed law that will make it easier for newcomers — specifically, Google Fiber — to string up cables and bring service to town.

The law is what’s known as a one-touch make-ready ordinance. What one-touch laws do is make it so anyone stringing up new cables on an existing utility pole can basically do it with one touch: the new folks can literally touch and move an existing cable to make room for their own, as long as they say they will and it doesn’t mess up anyone’s service. Without an ordinance like that on the books, a new company (Google) would need to have someone come out from AT&T and Comcast — any anyone else, like the electric utility — to come handle every single cable that needs moving at all on every single pole in the city they need to access.

Basically, Google Fiber will do the work and string up cables in a city that passes such an ordinance, but without a one-touch rule bringing new infrastructure in is annoying and expensive and time-consuming enough that it becomes a no-go. So if one is interested in blocking competition, blocking a one-touch ordinance is an effective way to do it.

While Alphabet did announce today that Google Fiber won’t continue expanding into new, “potential” cities it had been exploring, the Nashville project is already well underway. And it’s been a mess for months.

The council first got really serious about passing the legislation back in early August, which of course triggered a wave of pushback from the tech and telecom companies already in town: AT&T and Comcast. The Mayor asked the incumbents to come sit down with local lawmakers and hash out a compromise.

A meeting was held, but it was basically fruitless. Despite the last-minute appearance of a counter-proposal written by Comcast and AT&T in September, the city metro council still voted to move forward with the one-touch proposal, and the mayor signed it into law.

AT&T, meanwhile, had already threatened to sue the city over the law before the ink on the mayor’s signature was even dry. And indeed, the folks over at the Death Star can be as good as their word when it suits them: the lawsuit was filed barely two days later.

Fast forward a month, and here we sit, with Comcast finally joining in. Their suit makes similar claims to AT&T’s, asserting that the new ordinance upsets the pre-existing process (…yes…) and is in violation of Comcast’s existing contract with the city in several ways.

In a statement to Ars, a Comcast representative said that the company has “been committed to working with local stakeholders on a collaborative solution that improves the pace of broadband deployment in Nashville” from day one, and that therefore the current ugliness is the city’s fault for passing a rule.

“Unfortunately, the City Council has chosen to adopt an ordinance that violates existing FCC rules, creates significant safety concerns and increases the likelihood for service disruptions. We prefer a business-to-business agreement that reduces permitting times, eliminates unnecessary requirements, improves field coordination between parties and speeds up the overall rate of make-ready work. One Touch creates enormous problems for consumers that we cannot let stand, and we have no choice but to pursue legal action that protects our customers and our network,” the statement concludes.

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