Council to vote on change to end Google, AT&T dispute


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Chief Photojournalist SCOTT GUEST

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on December 11, 2013 at 8:24 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 11 at 9:00 PM

AUSTIN -- In tech-driven Austin, there's one thing nearly everyone wants: a faster Internet connection. Now a web surfer's dream is becoming a reality.

On Wednesday AT&T launched its high-speed fiber network GigaPower in Austin. Service techies have been drooling over Google Fiber, which touts Internet speeds 100 times faster than any other provider. It's set to debut sometime next year.

"I've held off getting Internet service and cable service because I knew Google Fiber was coming," said Austin resident Bookie Reed-Orr.

But there's a small hiccup. It seems Google and AT&T can't get along.

"As I understand it, AT&T is not on board with allowing Google to use their poles," explained City of Austin Manager of Media Relations Reyne Telles.

Google Fiber lines can be installed one of two ways, on utility poles or underground.

"We'd love to do as much installation in the air as possible, because it's much faster and much less disruptive to the community," said Google spokesperson Jenna Wandres.

According to Austin Energy, there are about 150,000 city-owned utility poles, and AT&T owns about 13,000. The City is allowing Google to install lines on some of its poles, but Google officials say they also needs to access some of AT&T's poles that are located in neighborhoods.

AT&T officials were not available to speak with KVUE News Wednesday. They did however tell our exclusive news partners at the Austin American-Statesman that Google can't use the poles because it is not a telecom or cable provider.

Federal law requires companies allow their competitors to run lines on their poles if the competitor is a telecommunications company or cable provider.

Now the Austin City Council could settle the fight because the AT&T poles are on city land.

"The City of Austin encourages a competitive market place among our providers, and we're able to use our regulatory authority in order to ensure that competitive marketplace," said Telles.

In its meeting Thursday, the council could vote to change an existing code and make all utility poles on city property joint-use.

"This is an unprecedented installation project. And so through that our goal is to minimize the impact of its effects on our residents," said Telles.

City and Google officials agree that the negative impacts would be large underground construction projects that would close streets if the lines would have to be installed underground, and there are aesthetic issues in Google installing new poles next to existing poles.

Austinites say the two companies should just agree to get along.

"When people hear that someone's being very unneighborly, I think it reflects poorly on AT&T," said Reed-Orr.

AT&T pays the city a quarterly franchise fee to have poles on city property. It also pays Austin Energy to hang lines on some of its poles. Google would be required to pay the same fees and has offered to pay AT&T to use its polls. 

The Austin City Council meets Thursday morning at 10 a.m.

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