It is because of this dark cloud surrounding the U.S. broadband internet industry that many enthusiasts become positively giddy about the prospects of Google Fiber coming to town (for reference, I pay $70 a month for 200 Mbps down/20 Mbps up, while Google Fiber offers symmetrical 1 Gbps speeds for the same price). Nashville, Tennessee residents were definitely happy to hear that Google Fiber was coming to town, and the company began its rollout in select locations earlier this year. However, Google is running into trouble from two competitors in the broadband internet space: Comcast and AT&T.
Given the geography of the Nashville, it’s not often feasible to bury lines in the ground. So Google has to link up the city using existing utility poles, and that’s where the problem comes in. The majority of the city’s poles are owned by the Nashville Electric Service (NES), which runs its power lines at the top of the poles, while telecommunications companies like AT&T and Comcast run their cables (for phone, internet, etc.) below.
For Google to add fiber internet service to the rest of Nashville, it needs to share space on those utility poles with AT&T and Comcast. Under the “Make Ready” initiative, Google would have to contact NES, who would in turn contact AT&T and Comcast to have crews come out and move their installed equipment to make room for Google’s equipment.
Needless to say, Google isn’t happy because this is a long and drawn out process, while AT&T and Comcast likely don’t want to even be bothered to “help” Google lay the framework for a competing service. Google is looking to cut the red tape to speed up the process with legislation that it calls “One Touch Make Ready”. Under this proposal, Google wouldn’t need approval from AT&T or Comcast to move their equipment, however, it would be required to use contractors that are approved by NES to complete the work. This allows Google to skip a few steps and get its internet service up and running faster.
“By embracing a one-touch make ready policy, Nashville is taking a significant step to bringing faster, better broadband to its residents,” said Google Fiber representative Amol Naik. “Such policies can simplify and expedite a big infrastructure effort like Google Fiber, reducing community disruption and promoting public safety.”
However, Comcast and AT&T aren’t happy. “Just because you spell your name with eight different colors doesn’t mean you can’t play by the rules that everybody else has to f**king play by,” said one operative speaking with Nashville Scene, who wished to remain nameless, regarding Google’s efforts to work the system (something that both AT&T and Comcast know a thing or two about).
AT&T, which employs union labor, is especially incensed by One Touch Make Ready — it would mean that its workers would be passed over for work that would typically be carried out using the existing Make Ready initiative. “We are concerned that a make-ready ordinance would interfere with our contractual commitment to have our skilled employees represented by the Communications Workers of America perform make-ready work on our behalf,” said AT&T spokesman Joe Burgan. “We have serious concerns with other companies being allowed to perform work on our facilities without providing us notice, which could put service reliability and public safety at risk in some circumstances.”
Comcast at least appears to be willing to sit down with all parties involved (including AT&T, Google, and NES), but AT&T is ready to dig in its heels and fight this latest battle out in the court system.