Rollout of Google Fiber slowed by pole dispute

Google Fiber, the city’s newest Internet provider, says delays surrounding utility pole attachment agreements are slowing expansion in Nashville as the company pushes a new Metro ordinance that addresses its concerns.

The Metro ordinance, which will be considered Tuesday on a first of three council votes, is designed to streamline what Google describes as a cumbersome process to attach its cables onto utility poles. Under current law, existing providers must move their own lines before a new provider can add another cable. AT&T and Comcast are opposed to the ordinance, referred to as One Touch Make Ready.

“The current process is slow and ineffective for a project of the size and scale of Google Fiber,” Amol Naik, Google Fiber’s Southeast head of external affairs, said in an emailed statement. “To build quickly and broadly in Nashville, we need a sensible policy like One Touch Make Ready.”

To connect Nashville homes to gigabit speed Internet, Google Fiber needs to attach its fiber-optic cables to the city’s nearly 90,000 utility poles, which already are used by its competitors. Google said since January it has submitted between 1,000 and 1,500 pole move applications weekly and only a few hundred poles have been made ready for Google, leaving local residents frustrated with the pace.

Lead bill sponsor Councilman Anthony Davis, who said the legislation has about 15 co-sponsors in the 40-member council, called the proposal a “no-brainer” measure to accommodate “a new era of telecommunication” in Nashville.

Davis said he doesn’t believe the ordinance would give Google Fiber an unfair advantage over other telecommunication companies in Nashville.

“I think they’re at a major disadvantage right now,” he said. “I don’t think it gives them an advantage.”

Google officials said the pole attachment issue has become a significant hurdle in Nashville because of the region’s deep limestone that limits underground installation. Ninety percent of Google’s 3,200 miles of fiber will be connected through utility poles, as a result.

Comcast is pushing for more discussions ahead of the Metro Council meeting Tuesday, where the ordinance is up for first reading. The company said it has not delayed any Google Fiber activity and that it coordinates weekly with Google Fiber to prioritize which lines to move first.

Assuming the bill clears a procedural first vote, the legislation would be voted on second reading in two weeks. That timeline would set up final approval in September.

Despite the strong early backing of the bill, some council members say they want to learn more about the issue before signing on.