Google Fiber warns it could pull plug over Nashville impasse

Google Fiber in Nashville
(Courtesy: Google Fiber)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Google is warning 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.

Google Fiber says it needs Metro Council to enact a “one touch” policy to allow its contractors to move other telecoms’ lines in order install its own. Comcast and AT&T say current rules requiring their own employees to move the lines prevent outages and limit liability and safety concerns.

Mayor Megan Barry is urging the Nashville Electric Service to help seek a resolution among Google Fiber, AT&T and Comcast regarding the city’s utility pole policy.

“High-speed broadband service is critical to the city of Nashville’s future,” said Barry, who has not come out on either side of the dispute. “A resolution to this issue that is fair to all will only benefit our citizens.”

Chris Levendos, head of Google Fiber’s network deployment, said the impasse is delaying the rollout of fiber – and possibly endangering it altogether.

“Worst-case scenario is either elongation or it just ceases to happen,” Levendos said.

Google Fiber announced its plans to expand into Nashville in January 2015, but efforts to connect the service have been slower than expected because the city’s hard limestone soil has made the company rely on utility poles instead of underground cables for 90 percent of the 3,200 miles of fiber it plans to install.

Google wants Nashville to pass a similar ordinance to one enacted in Louisville, Kentucky, to overcome what the company describes as an overly burdensome process to attach cables.

“People in Nashville are looking for choice and competition and want the opportunity to have the best available services,” Levendos said. “They want to have companies competing for them, and this ordinance created the opportunity to propel that further for any investor that would want to build a small or large network here in Nashville.”

But Joelle Phillips, the president of AT&T Tennessee, told Metro Council on Monday evening that the company disagrees with the “assumption that a party that’s new can diagnose the problem and the solution.”

AT&T is a heavy political contributor in the state and has strong connections to union-friendly council members because its employees are organized by the Communication Workers of America. The company owns 20 percent of the city’s utility poles, with the remainder owned by Nashville Electric Service.

“We appreciate your interest in letting us talk to each other to work it out, and we hope that you recognize that this is not a process that is needlessly complex,” Phillips said. “It’s a process where people can get hurt when things aren’t done correctly. Service gets interrupted when things aren’t done correctly.”

Andy Macke, vice president of government and community affairs for Comcast, said his company has seen a 50 percent failure rate in another market where Google Fiber has had one touch authorization.

“The reality is nobody’s going to care for your stuff like you do,” Macke said.

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