Some troubling news affecting local Internet choice arrived last week from Louisville, Kentucky — AT&T has sued the City of Louisville for enacting an ordinance that sought to reduce costs and delays during the process of readying utility poles for new attachments by competitive fiber builders.
One of the most costly, risky, and time-consuming parts of fiber optic construction is preparing utility poles for new attachments. Specifically, in order to meet safety and other codes, existing attachments (the gear that connects fiber, copper, or other plant to the pole itself, so as to hold it in place) may need to be moved up or down to make sufficient space for attachment of the new fiber. This process, known as “make-ready,” can sometimes take many months, as each attaching entity sends out a crew independently and at different times from the others to move its own attachment. Existing attachers often exacerbate these costly delays by dragging their heels in moving their facilities, as they have no desire to help new competitors enter the market rapidly.
What Louisville sought to do was to introduce a program known as “one-touch” to streamline make-ready work in situations in which the relocation work will not entail a cutting of lines or interruption of existing services. Under “one-touch,” a single entity makes all of the moves on the poles. That entity must be well-qualified to do the work under applicable industry standards and certification requirements.
Compare the scenarios: In the old way of doing things that AT&T seeks to preserve, three, four, five, or more crews, in three, four, five, or more trucks, take care of make-ready on three, four, five, or more occasions. Under the city’s new “one-touch” approach, one highly qualified crew takes care of all make-ready for a given pole in a single truck-roll.
We can’t speak to the legal issues involved or the particulars of the Louisville litigation, but, from a policy perspective, we are disappointed in AT&T’s opposition to “one-touch.” This opposition is particularly ironic because AT&T, in rolling out its own fiber network and services, would itself benefit from “one-touch” in many cases.
As advocates for local choice in Internet and broadband, we support and encourage collaborative, common sense efforts among stakeholders, including “one-touch” programs.