Google Warns Impasse Could Pull Plug On Fiber In Nashville

Posted at 3:15 PM, Aug 16, 2016

Google has warned that an impasse over access to utility poles could lead the company to pull the plug on its plans to bring its fiber optic broadband service to Nashville.

“There is a chance we could lose Google Fiber in the Nashville market,” Anthony Davis, a Nashville Metro Councilmember, said on Tuesday.

While Google Fiber crews have been spotted around Nashville installing fiber cable underground, the majority of the fiber cable, about 90 percent, will need to be installed along utility poles.

“To get fiber deployed in Nashville, it’s all about the utility poles and our policies on them,” Davis explained.

The policies surrounding utility poles have made it difficult for Google to spread their fiber network, leading the company to say that they may have to cut their losses and stop the expansion of Google Fiber to Nashville.

As it stands now, if Google wants to install fiber into a network of utility poles, the have to first get permission from the pole owner, either the Nashville Electric Service (NES) or AT&T. NES owns about 80 percent of Nashville’s utility poles, while AT&T owns the other 20 percent. 

After getting permission from the pole owner, Google would need to pay AT&T and Comcast a fee to have their cables moved slightly so the Google Fiber cables can fit alongside those cables. The problem is, each one of the cable movements, and the Google Fiber installation, all have to be done by separate contractors at this point.

To streamline the process, Davis has proposed a One Touch Make Ready ordinance to Metro Council.

“It just makes the process a lot more efficient,” Davis said.

Instead of having to jump through numerous hoops to have each wire moved by different contractors, this ordinance would allow one contractor to make all of the necessary changes, which would cut down on the resources needed to make the changes, and cut down on the time it takes.

Comcast and AT&T would both still get paid for having to have their wires moved on the utility poles.

“We think that this will make it a fair marketplace for these companies to come and offer Internet services to clients in Nashville,” Davis explained.

Mayor Megan Barry urged the NES to help seek a resolution among Google Fiber, AT&T and Comcast regarding the city's utility pole policy.

Google released a statement on Tuesday saying, “Our goal is to provide super fast Internet to Nashville, and the one touch make-ready policy helps us deliver on that promise. We appreciate the strong support that the Council has already shown, and think it’s important to take the time to address their remaining questions before the vote on September 6th.”

Chris Levendos, head of Google Fiber's network deployment, also said the company could walk away if a deal isn't struck.

A representative from AT&T released the following statement regarding the ordinance:

“We appreciate that Mayor Barry and Metro Council have opened the door to more discussion between the companies on this complex issue. However, we are concerned that this ordinance would interfere with our contractual commitment to have our skilled employees represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) perform make-ready work on our behalf. Beyond that, like other providers have previously stated we also have serious concerns with other companies being allowed to perform work on our facilities without providing us notice.  Additionally, jurisdiction to regulate pole attachments rests with the FCC, and municipalities have no authority under federal or state law to enact the ordinance being proposed here. We were the first provider to work with Google Fiber to grant them access to AT&T utility poles. We already have a national agreement with Google to give them access on a city-by-city basis. We’re glad to grant them access to our poles like we have for others, but Google attempting to change the rules for their benefit is both self-serving and simply wrong.”

A representative for Comcast also released a statement, stating:

“Every year, Comcast invests over $100 million in Tennessee.  We invest to build a strong, skilled workforce, deploy innovative products and services, and to keep our broadband network the most advanced in the state. All broadband providers face numerous challenges in Nashville with the make-ready and permitting processes that have impacted timely deployment and expansion of broadband facilities. We have stated that we believe the appropriate next step would be to conduct a meeting of all impacted stakeholders - including AT&T, Comcast, Google Fiber, NES and Public Works - to review the make-ready and permit process and discuss areas for improvement. This should be accomplished prior to any proposed legislation.”

The Mayor and members of Metro Council hope to meet with NES and all of the Internet companies involved sometime in the next couple of weeks.