Comcast Sues Over Nashville Pole Law

WASHINGTON — Comcast has sued the mayor of Nashville, Tenn., the city and its head of public works over what the MSO said was an illegal attempt to move its pole attachments without Comcast's consent.

According to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Comcast said Nashville also provided "far less" notice than either federal law or its contract with the city allows. Telco AT&T filed a similar suit last month.

The new ordinance was passed Sept. 20 and subsequently signed by Mayor Megan Barry. The idea behind it is to speed new communications competition, specifically Google Fiber.

The law makes it easier for new pole users to attach their own equipment. But Comcast said the ordinance amounts to unilateral interference with its equipment without its consent and on short notice — 15 days in some cases, 30 in others.

Google Fiber has been getting breaks from cities looking to boost competition to incumbent providers.

Comcast also takes issue with the fact that the ordinance does not allow it to approve the contractors who will move its equipment, so the MSO does not know whether those contractors meet its standards.

“Indeed, the Ordinance allows these encroaching attachers to do so even in cases in which the make-ready work is reasonably expected to cause service outages for Comcast’s customers — and still without Comcast’s consent, still without approved contractors or approved standards, and with the only caveat being that the encroaching attacher must give Comcast 30 rather than 15 days’ notice,” the suit said.

Comcast said the FCC has a comprehensive set of rules governing pole "make ready" processes — including a requirement of at least 60 days notice for “make ready” work and allowing the equipment owner to do that work. Comcast wants the ordinance to be invalidated as conflicting with federal law, and its enforcement to be permanently enjoined.

“From day one, we have been committed to working with local stakeholders on a collaborative solution that improves the pace of broadband deployment in Nashville,” said Comcast of the suit.  “Unfortunately, the City Council has chosen to adopt an ordinance that violates existing FCC rules, creates significant safety concerns and increases the likelihood for service disruptions. We prefer a business-to-business agreement that reduces permitting times, eliminates unnecessary requirements, improves field coordination between parties and speeds up the overall rate of make-ready work. One Touch creates enormous problems for consumers that we cannot let stand, and we have no choice but to pursue legal action that protects our customers and our network.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.