Google and AT&T: The Fiber Internet Wars

The AT&T-Google Standoff and Its Implications on Fiber Internet

Yagi Studio/Getty Images

March 08, 2016

AT&T and Google are locking horns over the introduction of Google Fiber in Louisville. This fight could well end up having implications that span all over the United States of America. What is this legal tussle all about and how could it affect the industry as a whole? In this post, we bring you the lowdown on this issue….

What the AT&T-Google Tussle is All About

Last week, AT&T filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Louisville, Kentucky, after the latter passed an ordinance, permitting ISPs or Internet Service Providers such as Google Fiber to make use of utility poles owned by AT&T.

With a view to bring gigabit Internet services to the city, Google started talks about introducing Fiber in the city in September last year. In February 2016, the city’s Metro Council decided to implement measures to encourage the deployment of these services.

Accordingly, an ordinance known as “One Touch Make Ready” was passed, enabling Google and other ISPs to install their equipment on existing utility poles, including the ones owned by AT&T. The telecom giant promptly filed a lawsuit against the city and the very next day, Google responded with a blog post condemning the lawsuit; also showing its support for the city.

AT&T’s Point of View

AT&T raised the following arguments in order to support its stand:

  • The company stated that charting out no prior standard regulation regarding pole attachments would end up posing a major problem, as it would have to deal with different regulations across the state. The expense incurred to maintain this system would eventually eat into its overall profits.
  • This move would cause issues for commercial building owners as well. While they have no right to disallow access to ISPs seeking to operate from their premises, they cannot permit new operators to move or disrupt existing carrier services either.
  • The telecom giant additionally stated that, since it was one of the nation’s largest telecom service providers, it was well-equipped enough to deal with such battles and would finally emerge victorious out of this lawsuit.

    What Google Aims to Achieve

    According to the One Touch Make Ready ordinance, a new ISP, seeking to use existing utility poles, would have to contact the owner of those poles, requesting them to make space for their lines. In case the owners do not respond within 30 days, the new ISP would have the right to hire a contractor to move the existing lines. The new company would then be responsible for any damage incurred by moving the existing provider’s equipment.

    From Google’s perspective, using existing utility poles would be the easiest and quickest way to start deploying Fiber services in the city. The giant is especially targeting cities where the local government owns a large share of the telecom infrastructure.

    Google’s actual intentions are yet not clear. It is possible that it merely wants to introduce gigabit Internet and see how the public responds to it. However, if it is really serious about propagating the use of Fiber across the city, it could have to deal with working around many a legal issue. In case AT&T is to win this battle, it could further complicate the former’s business plans.

    In case Google wants to avoid all possible legal hassles, it has yet another optional course of action.

    It could decide to place the cables underground – this would additionally make the network resistant to major weather and other factors.  

    Implications of Fiber Internet

    If AT&T wins the legal battle, it could end up negatively impacting Google Fiber in Louisville and all other major cities across the US; especially those where utility poles are not predominantly government-owned.

    Here is what we could expect to see, in case AT&T emerges the victor….

    • AT&T is arguing that the ordinance passed by the city of Louisville was unlawful and that Google would have to enter into some sort of Commercial Licensing Agreement if the company wanted to use the poles owned and operated by it. If the former wins the lawsuit, it could well affect Fiber’s potential in all other major cities across the US, where the ownership of utility poles is often shared between different providers. 
    • The win would affect not just Google, but several other service providers as well, who may also be interested to adopt fiber Internet, thereby creating healthy competition in the market.

    If Google Wins….

    In case Google wins this legal battle, it would prove to be beneficial for the company as well as all providers seeking to start deploying fiber services across the US. It would also be beneficial to users by introducing them to superfast Internet services; additionally offering them a range of service providers to choose from. 

    As things stand, the One Touch Make Ready ordinance is clearly receiving strong community support. People seem to be ready to take the next step to accessing superfast Internet and so, it is highly likely that Google will indeed register a thumping victory in this case.