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AT&T Google Government Networking

Google Fiber In Austin Hits a Snag: Incumbent AT&T 291

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the no-fiber-for-timothy dept.
AcidPenguin9873 writes "Earlier this year, Google announced that it would build its next fiber network in Austin, TX. Construction is slated to start in 2014, but there's a hitch: AT&T owns 20% of the utility poles in Austin. The City of Austin is considering a rules change that would allow Google to pay AT&T to use its utility poles, but AT&T isn't happy about it. The debate appears to hinge on a technicality that specifies what types of companies can attach to the utility poles that AT&T owns. From the news story: 'Google 'would be happy to pay for access (to utility poles) at reasonable rates, just as we did in our initial buildout in Kansas City,' she said, referring to Google Fiber's pilot project in Kansas City...Tracy King, AT&T's vice president for public affairs, said in a written statement that Google "appears to be demanding concessions never provided any other entity before. ... Google has the right to attach to our poles, under federal law, as long as it qualifies as a telecom or cable provider, as they themselves acknowledge. We will work with Google when they become qualified, as we do with all such qualified providers," she said.'"
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Google Fiber In Austin Hits a Snag: Incumbent AT&T

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  • by symbolset (646467) * on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:38PM (#45661579) Journal
    A torches and pitchforks parade at the AT&T offices and the homes of local executives might be required however.
    • by X0563511 (793323)

      AT&T is pretty well used to this by now...

    • by ron_ivi (607351) <sdotno AT cheapcomplexdevices DOT com> on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:59PM (#45661837)

      torches and pitchforks parade at the AT&T offices

      Isn't this almost exacty what Eminent Domain laws are designed for. If some private company's blocking use of resources important to public or civic use (those cable right-of-ways) the government pretty much gets to take them and pay whatever it says they're worth. Or do they only use those laws to kick out poor people for huge corporate developers?

      • This would fall under easement laws, not eminent domain.

        • by ron_ivi (607351)
          I was hoping the government would take the poles in their entirety, rather than trying to get them to share.
        • by toastar (573882)
          Easement laws in the US are a form of eminent domain.
          • An easement is a limited right or interest in the land of another entitling the holder to use, privilege or benefit.

            Eminent domain is the legal right and procedures for a municipality to take title and possession of private property for public use.

            You might be able to get an easement by using eminent domain, but the more normal process is to purchase an easement. Another way is what happens in a subdivision, where the developer defines where the easements are for such things as utility services (wires

      • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:26PM (#45662195)
        Do people not even read the summary any more? What AT&T wants is for their competitor, google, to be regulated as a utility, as AT&T is, before using the utility poles. It's not that unreasonable. If the outcome is that the regulations are out of date and eased for both AT&T and google, that's fine too.
        • Is AT&Ts internet access regulated as a utility, too? If not, I could see that coming back to bite them (and see myself basking in the glow of warm schadenfreude).

        • by gmack (197796)

          Not exactly, they want Google to qualify as a telecom or cable provider when, in fact, they don't qualify as either since they only provide internet access and not phone or TV broadcasts,

      • by rahvin112 (446269)

        They don't pay "whatever they say it's worth". The law is that they pay what fair market value is as appraised by independent appraisal. This includes that if the owner doesn't believe the appraisal was accurate they can pay for their own appraisal and use that as a club against the price.

        Failure to pay fair market value will get a government agency stomped in court faster than you would believe is even possible. Most Judges if they believe the offer was low balled deliberately will award costs equivalent t

        • by thaylin (555395)
          I dont think they will have to purchase them. They are already on public property under easment, they can just require fair use by ISPs at the same costs as telcoes and cable providers.
  • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:40PM (#45661609) Homepage Journal

    There's not a lot to say in favor of [local telecom] just about anywhere in the U.S. Their margins are higher than any other substantial industry, and yet they're constantly in fear of even microscopic changes, pushing absurd protectionism through every level of government.

    • every yahoo (pun intended) with a tin desk, a telephone, and a tie can set up a little telecom company with just a few thousand dollars for the lawyers to draw up the papers. many have. the reason is that they get wholesale rates from every other telecom company on colocation, facilities, duct access, dark fiber, provisioned carriers, and everything including access to the bathroom. it's infinitely cheaper than bending the ears (or passing "campaign contributions" wink wink) to scores of local politician

      • by headhot (137860)

        The problem isnt forming the telecom, its confirming to the regulations once you are a telecom.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The legal costs to stand up a CLEC in most states will definitely be much, much more expensive than "just a few thousand dollars" and there has to be a compelling cost/benefit set of reasons to do it. For Google it makes perfect sense as they are of course already well on their way to be a major owner of global fiber and tele/datacom infrastructure and more (WAY more) than have the economies of scale nationally and internationally to justify teams of in-house lawyers and regulatory junkies who can navigate

    • by sqrt(2) (786011) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:11PM (#45661997) Journal

      Decades of absurd protectionism is how they achieved those margins. It's their only viable business model at this point. They are terrified of becoming a provider of a commodity product, a dumb pipe for bits that anyone can compete with. There's no easy way for a business to justify readjusting to lower (realistic) profits after raking in unreasonable amounts of money for so long. It'll look like a huge loss to their investors, and not what it really is; a return to sane market equilibrium and healthy competition. Investors will consider the leadership to have failed massively, and they'll be held accountable. So the leaders are doing what they can to stop it. It's a perverse system.

      • by Sarius64 (880298) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @03:04PM (#45662631)
        Exactly. On top of this, AT&T wishes to compete with Google as an ISP but under the guise of a telco instead. Whereas in San Diego, for instance, AT&T used their ISP status to force fair use on the existing utility conduits established by Cox and Time Warner. Seriously praying for Google to come to San Diego. Reno too for the rest of the family. :)
    • There's no level of profit which is ever "good enough" to any company, or even most people. Human nature, or maybe just nature, is to grow accustomed to what one has and then immediately seek to gain more. Cancer cells or really any other living thing will consume food until it reaches starvation. With monopolies or in other profitable times, companies don't just stockpile money usually, they spend it trying to grow bigger. Those that do are rare, and dumb things often happen when they do stockpile [slate.com]

      G
    • by Shatrat (855151)

      How about Google just partners with some local smaller carrier like Fiberlight or Transtelco, has them build the cable, and then just buys the fibers they need out of it? The company I work for attaches to AT&T poles every day, because we're a carrier and they have to sell that space to us if it's available. Likewise we have to let other carriers attach to our poles. This is not news to anyone who knows anything about fiber.

  • by Crashmarik (635988) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:40PM (#45661611)

    No surprise from ATT, I doubt anyone expected anything from them except obstructionism. Cheers to the City Council for taking action that is obviously in their constituents best interest.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:43PM (#45661637) Journal

    So, just to get this straight, a company who gained its position through a helluva lot of taxpayer dollars, much of it in the form of last mile access on public lands, now decides it has some ethical and moral right to block a competitor.

    I say that every single time one of the old telco descendants does this, they are sent a bill with interest for every nickel directly or indirectly they received from the public purse, payable immediately.

    • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:21PM (#45662127)
      No, AT&T is not claiming some ethical and moral right to block a competitor. They are claiming a legal right to do so. They do not spell it out, but it seems to me that they are, also, claiming a legal obligation to do so (although that impression may be a misreading of the reporters interpretation of their statement).
    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:26PM (#45662183)

      So, just to get this straight, a company who gained its position through a helluva lot of taxpayer dollars, much of it in the form of last mile access on public lands, now decides it has some ethical and moral right to block a competitor.

      Actually no. They have no ethical or moral rights and never has. They are a business, not a person, and federal law be damned. What they do have, however, is a legal right, purchased through years of lobbying efforts to our legislators, who are now thoroughly corrupted -- 97% of our candidates for federal positions who won had more money than their opponent. Democracy at work.

      The only reason that Google might bust them up on this is because everyone loves Google, it's new and hip, while AT&T sounds like some 60s throwback dinosaur that can safely and quietly be shoveled out the door or sacrificed on the altar of public opinion. And Google knows this!

    • by alen (225700)

      same with google
      they got where they are by riding on the back of the networks and content built and made by others and now don't want to register as a cable company when they are providing cable services like everyone else

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Are the poles on public ride of way. If so then to bad for AT&T.

      • by Fjandr (66656)

        No, the poles run through easements that AT&T negotiated with the various landowners in their way. The poles themselves are wholly owned by AT&T. Exactly what the terms of those easements are is going to have significant impact on whether AT&T can be forced to open up their poles for Google's fiber lines.

  • Funny ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:43PM (#45661641) Homepage

    Funny how AT&T gets an easement to use public (and sometimes private) lands for this, and then over time it becomes 'their' property to be used at their discretion.

    In other words, the incumbent who got there by using public resources is now acting like they're private resources.

    Such horse shit, and just more of governments allowing corporations to own what it essentially infrastructure paid for and used by all of us.

    • Time to send in the Phone Cops to bust some heads! Starting with Dr. Johhny Fever.
  • by Sez Zero (586611) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:43PM (#45661643) Journal
    If they are, can't they use the poles under FCC reg? If not, why are they not considered a cable company or telco? Is it because they don't want to follow some regulation that would be required if they have that status?
    • by Formorian (1111751) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:55PM (#45661769)

      I believe it's narrowly defined as telephone service and VOIP doesn't count. According to AT&T spokeperson, Google even agree's they don't fit the requirement as a telecom.

      So like I posted below, update the regulation to include any form of communication, or if you want to keep it narrow add ISP's. I don't think even if the fed's don't change it, that AT&T has a leg to stand on. The city owns the right of ways and can change what's allowed within their borders IMO. But IANAL.

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        I believe it's narrowly defined as telephone service and VOIP doesn't count. According to AT&T spokeperson, Google even agree's they don't fit the requirement as a telecom.

        So like I posted below, update the regulation to include any form of communication, or if you want to keep it narrow add ISP's. I don't think even if the fed's don't change it, that AT&T has a leg to stand on. The city owns the right of ways and can change what's allowed within their borders IMO. But IANAL.

        So can Google form a telecom subsidiary that provides voice service that also leases fiber bandwidth back to Google for use in delivering Gigabit Ethernet?

        I'm sure they can find a small CLEC that would run the voice service for them.

      • They should just run their shit anyway. Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. But TINLA.
    • by NapalmV (1934294) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:01PM (#45661851)
      Because they would fall under FCC Telecomunications Act of 1996, section 702. Which would obliterate their existing business.
    • by symbolset (646467) *
      Google doesn't need to be a phone company under federal law to provide gigabit fiber to Austin, TX. This is a local matter, and it appears the local government is handling it just fine.
    • by jratcliffe (208809) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:18PM (#45662075)

      If they are, can't they use the poles under FCC reg? If not, why are they not considered a cable company or telco? Is it because they don't want to follow some regulation that would be required if they have that status?

      Pretty much, yes. Good description in the link below. Essentially, Google is an information service provider, regulated under Title 1 of the Telecom Act of 1996. If it were willing to be regulated under Title 2, as a telecom service provider, then it would qualify for pole attachment access guarantees. I fully agree that the language in the 1996 Telecom Act regarding pole access should be broadened to cover Google, but it seems that AT&T has a pretty decent case that it doesn't cover Google, as written. http://www.kandutsch.com/articles/access-to-utility-poles-for-ftth-providers [kandutsch.com]

    • by swb (14022)

      Everybody hates existing internet providers for all the usual reasons, inflated prices, crappy services and restrictive and sometimes secretive rules designed to limit actual use of the service along with degradation of connections delivering services that compete with the services provided by the internet provider. I'll agree to that.

      But why do I have a suspicion that while Google's fiber product is currently presented as some kind of benevolent, monopoly disrupting service, is it really going to stay th

    • by meerling (1487879)
      Because they are delivering "data" rather than "phone" or "television".
      That same dodge has been used in a lot of places, including here, to screw with internet providers trying to get access to the backbone or homes.
  • Free Market Lies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Daemonik (171801) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:45PM (#45661663) Homepage

    This is why free market utopianism is such a crock. Business do not want to compete with each other and will use every ounce of their power & every legal trick they can create to prevent an upstart from disrupting their markets.

    Ironically the only way to have a free market is if the government forces them to.

    • by Danathar (267989) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:48PM (#45661681) Journal

      You assume a government free of control by outside forces.....

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        You assume a government free of control by outside forces.....

        Like lobbyists, political contributors, and industry reps being appointed to run regulatory bodies.

        In other words, can't happen.

        • by bradrum (1639141)

          This is huge in Texas. Just notice the dry laws in North Texas. There are areas in the North Texas that have a huge number of liquor stores that make insane profits. These areas are owned by those with great political power so that they can make the revenue off the booze sales from nearby areas where cannot by booze.

          When people say in Texas say "free market", they usually mean that there is regulation that benefits their access to markets while limiting the access of others. So its essentially "free fo

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            And to me it's evidence of why it will never work.

            Because it assumes perfect conditions that won't happen, rational decisions by consumers, and no corruption/collusion, and an environment where others can come to the game.

            In reality, over time, it becomes about protecting the interests of those with access to power and becomes something else entirely.

            And the oft-touted solution of removing regulations (or hiring someone from industry to be in charge of them) doesn't ever seem to do anything but make matters

    • by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:18PM (#45662081) Homepage

      The entire point of the article is that there is no free market here. So you have drawn the wrong conclusion.

      The problem is that AT&T has been granted local monopoly power over utility poles while monopoly power as the local telecom company. If they were a for-profit company who built and maintained utility poles, they would have incentive to get as many wires onto those telephone poles as they could safely fit. This is why many states are deregulating power by separating the local power company, who maintains the power lines, from the power providers who put power onto those lines.

    • by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:19PM (#45662091)

      I don't think there are very many people who believe in a free market "utopia". It's just that many people rightly point out that free markets tend to be more efficient than governments. This is great when efficiency takes priority over all else - like, say, the cost of a roll of scotch tape. For things like utilities, most people agree that there are other factors besides raw price that are important: wires strung all over the place is ugly and complicated, and yet restricting to a single right-of-way tends toward monopoly over the lines. The difficult bit is managing the tradeoff between government corruption and inefficiency versus free market weirdness like supply and demand instability and exclusion of non-economic considerations.

      There is not and there never will be a "right" answer or a correct balance - every possible solution has pros and cons. Like any dynamic system, caution should be taken when making adjustments. Just as violently shifting an aircraft's controls will lead to instability, suddenly changing the rules of commerce can lead to things like rolling blackouts in CA.

      Back on topic, tweaking the utility pole rules to allow Google to hang fiber on them seems like a reasonable path forward.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        There is not and there never will be a "right" answer or a correct balance - every possible solution has pros and cons.

        We don't have to let private corporations own infrastructure installed through easements.
        A government chartered non-profit corporation has all of the pros and less of the cons.

        There's no reason why the city couldn't reclaim AT&T's telephone poles at market rate, then lease it back to AT&T and anyone else that wasn't to use 'em..

    • by sqrt(2) (786011)

      You really, really, really, don't want a "free" market anyway. A "free" market leads to Somalia. What you want is a fair market, and a fair market requires government intervention to stop one company from becoming so dominant that they can dictate all the terms. This naturally happens from time to time and requires government to force the company to break up so the market can be "reset" and healthy competition restored.

      It's also possible for the mechanism of government intervention to be captured and used f

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      if it were a true free market, google would be able to put its own poles up, it was like this in the past where every network had its own overhead poles, it didnt work out so great. There are some awesome photos that I just cant seem to find right now that show NYC in the early days full of poles and cables and it was a disaster, a beautiful disaster however
    • by meerling (1487879)
      The actual "Free Market" is an economic utopian theory, and like all the other utopian theories, it is unrealistic and doesn't exist. All the stuff that claims to be a free market, is either lying, or stupid.
      • by Ichijo (607641)
        When you refer to a "free market," do you mean a market free of regulations or a market free of monopolies? Choose at most one.
    • by jon3k (691256)
      There's no irony here because the entire situation was created by the government granting someone a [mon|du]opoly. You can't break capitalism then blame capitalism for the current situation.
  • Isn't providing telecom services like internet a prima facie indication of being a telecom provider? Oh, I see they haven't gotten official recognition as a telecom. Never mind.
  • The "technicality" is that Google wants to act as a telecom / cable company without being listed/regulated as such.
    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      Yeah and part of the deal is playing nice and not writing a snarky letter to the president nudge nudge
  • by Dega704 (1454673) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:49PM (#45661699)
    It's reasons like this that Google decided to blaze this trail in the first place. Stunts like this pulled by incumbents are often enough to kill smaller startups and projects, whereas it will likely only be a hindrance for Google.
  • by Formorian (1111751) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:50PM (#45661713)

    It seems to me AT&T's complaint is that Google isn't a telecom or cable provider as defined by federal law. Well back when it was probably defined, dedicated internet companies probably didn't exist or were in their infancy.

    All the city is doing is saying yes you have to lease your polls to a ISP also. I don't see the problem.

    AT&T is just trying to block competition, which I understand being greedy and they want their monopoly like every other cable co, but they are going to loose.

    I wish Fed's would just add ISP's to that list. But if you read the article, the city is right. They don't want a ton of poles in 1 spot just because some douche company won't lease to another company and also construction. The poles are there, let em lease em.

    • by Guspaz (556486) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @01:55PM (#45661783)

      Google Fibre is not an Internet-only service. It also includes television service, making it analogous to cable providers.

    • The potential issue is that Google does not want to fall under the regulations which they would need to comply with if they were considered a "telecom or cable provider" under federal law. The problem is that that area of law is so encumbered with privileges and regulations for companies so designated that I do not know if it is a good idea to allow Google to skirt the issue. On the other hand, if the contracts and laws are so written that the City of Austin can force AT&T to allow Google to connect und
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So AT&T wants to sunset POTS, but still claim to be a telco? lol

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So AT&T is waving their poles around in Google's face?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:03PM (#45661889)

    I own an apartment complex with 132 units. We own the fiber/CATV cable/ethernet cables from the complex telcom room out to each unit.

    FIOS, RCN, Comcast and DISH are all present in the telcom room. Tenants can order up service from any of those vendors. We also offer an internet only option. If a new vendor wants to offer service to our complex, they have to get to the telcom room, but from their its easy to compete. If Google came along, they could offer service from our telcom room to the entire complex.

    This works really well, and I think the concept should work on a city-wide level as well.
    City owned fiber, commercial providers on an even footing.
    Lower costs, better service.

    • I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. While not quite a shining example, it's how the national labs are run. Every 5 years the contract is up for rebid, then it falls on that contractors lap to manage all the programs and development until it's time to re-up.

      Your typical city doesn't have an army of low-voltage electricians to run it all themselves, so the laydown will be contracted work. All maintenance would be done for some contract term, and the ISP's would compete directly with each other to br

  • by headhot (137860) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @02:07PM (#45661945) Homepage

    The town should instruct AT&T to remove their poles from the town owned easements, or let google pay for pole access. Problem solved.

    • by PPH (736903)

      AT&T undoubtedly has a franchise agreement with municipalities to install and operate facilities within the public right-of-way. Until that agreement comes up for renegotiation, there isn't much a town can do to lean on any common carrier.

      What? You say AT&T isn't a common carrier? Start pulling out those poles.

  • Then sub-lease access to a whole new ecosystem of internet startups that aren't telco/cable either. Then again, this is all based upon the laws/regs which are subject to change.
  • Surely, with all of our experience with what natural events (strong winds / tornados / hurricanes / ice stoems) can do to aerial cables, wtf isn't the city / state mandating that all new utility services are run underground?

    • by jader3rd (2222716)

      Surely, with all of our experience with what natural events (strong winds / tornados / hurricanes / ice stoems) can do to aerial cables, wtf isn't the city / state mandating that all new utility services are run underground?

      That would give residents headaches with all of the construction to do so, and therefore is avoided.

  • That killed a public WiFi MESH network where I live. These big companies need a big slap.
  • Once again, this is why communication infrastructure should be built with tax dollars, publicly owned and leased to ISPs fairly.

    Sure, Google is all up in AT&T's shit now, but the enemy of my enemy is not my friend; don't think for a second that Google won't be in exactly the same position decades from now. We'll be dealing with this monopolistic protectionism and technological stifling as long as the lines are privately owned.

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