You're not one of us, California cable tells Google

15 March 2016 by Steve Blum
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Not welcome.

Google probably thought its problems getting access to utility poles in California were safely astern. After all, the California Public Utilities Commission declared that Google is a cable company and has the same right as any other cable (or telephone) company to use utility poles. Turns out, other cable operators, via their Sacramento lobbying front, are claiming that Google Fiber isn’t a member of their tribe and shouldn’t be allowed on poles that they jointly control with electric and telephone utilities.

According to a story in the San Jose Mercury News, Google has complained to the CPUC that the joint pole association that covers much of Silicon Valley won’t play ball…

The Northern California Joint Pole Association has refused to grant membership to Google, according to [Google lawyer Austin] Schlick’s letter, and membership is required for access to the group’s poles. Among the association’s members are AT&T and Comcast, both expanding their own gigabit-speed Internet services.

In reply, the California Cable and Telecommunications Association – which represents Comcast, among others – said in effect that the CPUC got it wrong because Google doesn’t meet federal requirements for a cable company.

It amounts to a rear guard action. One way or the other Google could eventually meet California requirements for “nondiscriminatory access to public utility infrastructure”, as the CPUC puts it. It might prefer to operate under the extremely limited regulatory regime cable companies enjoy, but it could become a certified phone company too.

The other option – which Comcast must prefer – is for Google to say sorry, we’re going to build elsewhere. That’s a very real possibility. Its plan to use existing fiber to provide limited service in San Francisco notwithstanding, Google has yet to make a firm commitment to build fiber networks anywhere in California.