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In Kentucky, AT&T Looks To Slow Google Fiber's Expansion


Google has been working hard to bring its ultra-high-speed Internet to cities across the country, but that service, Google Fiber, might have hit a snag in Louisville, Ky. AT&T has filed a federal lawsuit against the city after local lawmakers streamlined the installation process for Fiber Internet providers. That lawsuit could have big implications for Google Fiber beyond Kentucky. Jake Ryan from member station WFPL reports.

JAKE RYAN, BYLINE: Matt Embry cranes his neck as he stands just off a busy highway in Louisville.

MATT EMBRY: So we're looking at a typical telephone pole. It's a little bit worn and aged, but when you look up the pole, the first thing that you will see attached to it is part of AT&T's network infrastructure.

RYAN: Embry is the president of the local Communications Workers of America union. He says access to these poles is the root of the lawsuit filed by AT&T of Kentucky. The company alleges the Louisville Metro City Council overstepped its jurisdiction when it approved a policy to streamline high-speed Internet installation. The issue - allowing a contractor for one company to move utility cables of a competitor. Embry says that breaches the union contract with AT&T.

EMBRY: This work has been done by bargain employees for a very long time, and we have negotiated contract after contract for decades to have that exclusivity for CWA workers to do that.

RYAN: Industry watchers say the suit is more than just protecting the rights of union workers. Jason Hiner is a chief global editor of TechRepublic, an online trade publication. He notes AT&T also wants to bring high-speed Internet to Louisville.

JASON HINER: The longer that they can delay this for Google, the faster they can get their product to market, and so that behooves them.

RYAN: The suit isn't against Google Fiber. It targets the city of Louisville, so any company's installation could be delayed here. Hiner says the suit has far-reaching implications for Google, which wants to bring gigabit speed Internet across the U.S.

HINER: Louisville is much more like most of the top 10 cities in America like San Francisco and New York where the infrastructure's owned by these different entities and Google has to negotiate a way, you know, with the city or these other entities to get the right-of-way, essentially.

RYAN: Hiner says other cities will likely fight Google Fiber. It's already been done in Tempe, Ariz., and Austin, Texas. A major delay in Louisville could slow Google Fiber's future expansion.

HINER: It's a really important test case. You know, for the future of Internet and the U.S., it has pretty huge implications.

RYAN: Ted Smith is the city of Louisville's chief innovation officer. He knows other regions are watching closely.

TED SMITH: Everybody's in a slightly different position or a situation, but there are a lot of commonalities, and there are a lot of places in the country where pole attachment is a real factor.

RYAN: Smith, like Hiner, says more companies offering ultra high speed internet is good for consumers, can help attract businesses and give cities the cool factor. Matt Embry, back at the utility pole, says he's also for the competition. More companies could mean more jobs for workers like him. He just doesn't like the way it's happening now.

EMBRY: It is, for us, a Catch-22. We want to see the competition come in. We just want them to have to negotiate and do it along the same lines as everyone else did.

RYAN: In a blog post, officials with Google Fiber said they support Louisville's effort to make it easier to install Fiber in the city, and they're confident the policy will be upheld. For NPR News, I'm Jake Ryan in Louisville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jake Ryan is reporter and producer at KVNF. He received his B.A. in Journalism from Western Illinois University. After serving with Americorps and volunteering for a community radio station in Maryland, he graduated from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. His pieces have been aired on Delmarva Public Radio, Maine Public Broadcasting Network, and New Hampshire Public Radio. He enjoys board games, trying new things, and flying kites.