Fiber optics: brilliantly fast and a powerhouse for revolutionizing the telecommunications industry in the Information Age (at least according to Wikipedia). It can accommodate systems “requiring higher bandwidth or spanning longer distances than electrical cabling,” and Google has the corner market on providing broadband internet and televisions to various locations across the U.S. with its Google Fiber service. But there may be complications, not in the technological, but in the regulatory side of its implementation. Texas technology attorneys may be as divided as Google and the cable companies (and their lobby) are—when it comes to “Title II and pole attachment rights,” who, exactly, has the upper hand?
The Communications Act of 1934 is at the heart of the matter, with Google Fiber claiming that the Federal Communications Commission needs to reclassify broadband providers as “common carriers” in order for “Google and other companies [to] gain access to infrastructure controlled by utilities.” In one section of Title II, Section 224, are the specifications for pole attachments, and Google is attempting to leverage its Texas technology attorneys in Austin, Texas to gain attachment rights to telephone poles owned by AT&T so it can hook up its fiber to the already existing infrastructure.
But some Texas technology attorneys like Micah F. McBride, and technology reporters like Jon Brodkin for Ars Technica aren’t so sure that Google isn’t just “blowing smoke” about the whole issue. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has issued a statement arguing that “Google can already avail itself of pole attachment rights under Section 224, notwithstanding its assertions to the contrary…the law is clear that facilities-based providers of Internet Protocol television services do qualify as cable operators under the Communications Act of 1934…”
So while that may seem cut and dry in theory, in practice, it’s a little stickier. Google has encountered difficulty getting pole attachments in Austin, as AT&T wielded their own Texas technology attorneys to dispute Google’s status as “a telecom or cable provider and thus did not have the right to attach to AT&T’s poles.”
Business litigators in Texas like Mr. McBride might say this is a commonplace scenario for competitors in the tech and telecom industry, with each party waving the same Section of the same Act to promote and defend their own interests. But analysts like Brodkin think there may be more to Google’s strategy than just gaining access rights—they’re playing the long game.
Assigning Title II rights to broadband internet access services could “drive up the price of pole attachments for its members,” and what company, if not Google, has seemingly endless supplies of funds? It may be a tricky—though successful, in the long term—way to ensure that it eventually stands alone as a high speed internet service provider with its fiber optics. By arguing their case before the FCC, Google may indeed be hopeful that a change in the status for broadband providers would result in requirements that are too costly for smaller-time operations, leaving the way open for the tech, telecom, and financial giant to stand alone.