As the Nashville Metro Council prepares for a final vote to give Google Fiber faster access to utility poles, one council member is sponsoring an alternative plan that comes from AT&T and Comcast.
The council has tentatively approved a One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) ordinance that would let a single company—Google Fiber in this case—make all of the necessary wire adjustments on utility poles itself. Ordinarily, Google Fiber must wait for incumbent providers like AT&T and Comcast to send construction crews to move their own wires, requiring multiple visits and delaying Google Fiber’s broadband deployment. The pro-Google Fiber ordinance was approved in a 32-7 preliminary vote, but one of the dissenters asked AT&T and Comcast to put forth a competing proposal before a final vote is taken.
The new proposal from council member Sheri Weiner “call[s] for Google, AT&T, Comcast and Nashville Electric Service to create a system that improves the current process for making utility poles ready for new cables,” The Tennesseanreported last week. “Weiner said AT&T and Comcast helped draft the resolution she proposes.”
Weiner told Ars that she asked AT&T and Comcast to propose a resolution.
“I told them that I would file a resolution if they had something that made sense and wasn’t as drastic as OTMR,” Weiner told Ars in an e-mail today, when we asked her what role AT&T and Comcast played in drafting the resolution. Weiner said she is insisting on some changes to the resolution, but the proposal (full text) was submitted without those changes.
When asked why she didn’t put her suggested changes in the version of the resolution published on the council website, Weiner said, “I had them [AT&T and Comcast] submit it for me as I was out of town all last week on business (my day job).” Weiner said an edited resolution will be considered by the council during its next meeting.
The Nashville Metro Council is the legislative authority of Nashville and Davidson counties, with 40 elected members serving in the part-time roles.
Google Fiber offered significant input on the One Touch Make Ready text that is likely to be approved.
UPDATE: AT&T denied writing the resolution, but did not say exactly what role it played in the process. “We did not draft this resolution. Councilwoman Weiner has asked many insightful questions of the parties involved in this debate, and we welcome the work that is being done to craft a better solution,” an AT&T spokesperson told Ars.
Comcast declined comment.
A resolution—not a requirement
Weiner’s plan could stall the OTMR ordinance and—though it might improve Google Fiber’s current situation—would not provide the quick access to poles sought by Google Fiber and most council members. However, Weiner said she is willing to support OTMR later on if her proposal doesn’t result in significant improvements.
The One Touch Make Ready ordinance (full text) is scheduled for a vote at tomorrow’s council meeting. Tomorrow’s agenda also includes Weiner’s proposal, which would not impose any legally binding requirements because it is a resolution rather than an ordinance.
“A resolution is not us mandating what can be done on private poles but recognizes that there is an infrastructure problem that is impacting our constituents,” Weiner told Ars. If it turns out that companies don’t adhere to the terms of the resolution, “then I would support OTMR,” Weiner said.
The resolution calls for the Nashville Electric Service to process permit applications within 30 days (down from the current 45 days), and it gives companies 45 days after that to complete the actual work. The resolution also says the companies should complete work on an average of 125 poles per week, whereas the current process only accommodates 100 poles every 30 days.
The resolution suggests that AT&T and Comcast pay penalty fees of $500 a month for each incomplete pole short of the 125-pole weekly target. (The weekly average would be calculated over the course of eight weeks.)
Weiner wants to increase the penalty fees. “I have asked them [AT&T and Comcast] to tweak it to make the fines steeper and more of a deterrent,” she said. “Instead of a flat $500 per pole fine, it increases the second month to $1,000 and the third month to $1,500 per pole delayed.” The resolution text doesn’t include those changes yet, but they will be considered during the meeting, she said.
Weiner said she originally wanted the council to pass an amended version of OTMR, using a similar approach as the one in her new resolution, but her suggested amendment was not approved at the last meeting.
“I believe that we need to give these companies (Google included) the opportunity to do the right thing as Nashville’s partners,” Weiner said. “Their process is flawed from start to finish, and the existing providers have not seriously done anything to make this right, or we wouldn’t be here in the first place. I’m not comfortable that OTMR is the answer to all the problems that plague this system.”
The resolution “is my last opportunity to try to get the council to agree to a less drastic measure and then come in with the hammer if need be,” she said.
AT&T has already threatened to sue Nashville if it passes the One Touch Make Ready ordinance. AT&T has also complained that Google Fiber construction crews sometimes do not follow proper safety procedures when moving wires.
Google Fiber says that it would need access to 44,000 more poles in Nashville to complete a citywide buildout. On September 2, Google Fiber told Ars that of 9,793 poles where work has been approved, 4,374 need Comcast to move wires, and 3,595 need AT&T to move wires. The other poles need work by other ISPs or movements of power lines.
Google Fiber worked closely with council
Google Fiber was part of a “team effort” to draft the proposal, council member Anthony Davis told Ars.
“When Google met with council members to talk about the policy back in the spring, I immediately jumped on board to lead the effort through council because I believe strongly in the merits of One Touch,” Davis said.
Davis said he “worked closely with Google Fiber and others throughout these last few months.” Level 3 Communications, another network operator, offered input on an amendment to “address safety and other concerns,” he said. A council attorney helped significantly with the legislative language, he said. Nashville Electric Service was also consulted, he said.
Google Fiber confirmed to Ars that it contributed to the One Touch Make Ready text, along with other participants.
Google Fiber also supported a One Touch Make Ready proposal in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville’s local government approved the ordinance and was promptly sued by AT&T.
Council member Jeremy Elrod, another One Touch Make Ready sponsor in Nashville, told The Tennessean last week that Weiner’s plan would force Google Fiber and other competitors to roll out service “at a trickle,” whereas One Touch Make Ready would “be like opening the floodgates.”
“This resolution coming at the last minute, to be considered the same night as a third reading of the One Touch bill, just shows it’s the last gasp of Comcast and AT&T, desperately trying to hold on to their top place on the utility pole,” Elrod said. “These two companies should not be the gatekeepers that get to decide when and where their customers get access to a competitor.”
One Touch Make Ready laws are generally supported by community broadband advocates who want to make it easier for newcomers to compete against incumbent ISPs. Next Century Cities, a coalition of 149 city governments that want better broadband deployment, says One Touch Make Ready policies can speed up fiber deployment in a manner similar to “dig once” policies that require installation of fiber cables or conduit during other construction projects.
“Across the country, there have been complaints about lengthy processes to acquire access to poles and complex make-ready processes that require coordination among multiple providers to make changes,” Next Century Cities says. “By implementing One Touch Make Ready policies, companies will benefit from less red tape, communities will benefit from less disruption, and everyone will benefit from faster deployment and increased connectivity.”