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Google aims for pole position as Title II trench warfare escalates in the US

utility pole

via Flickr © William Mewes (CC BY 2.0)

In an interesting twist in the US net neutrality debate, Google has highlighted the possible pro-competitive aspects of classifying Internet Access under ‘common carrier’ regulations: that it will give ISPs access to utility poles and other infrastructure upon which they may build competitive services. The ‘Cookie Monster’ has written to the FCC to urge that the privilege be extended to ISPs as part and parcel of any reclassification.

The Google opinion stands in stark contrast to the line held with increasing ferocity by the big US telcos and their supporters in Congress who see Title II as a doomsday scenario which will forever tie operators in red tape and unwelcome restrictions.

That Google is highlighting this aspect is significant partly because the pro-neutrality camp was increasingly worried over its lack of visibility in the net neutrality debate. Did it mean the Cookie Monster was preparing to make a U-turn as the balance of advantage begins to swing? As it is sitting pretty and dominant in at the top of the online advertising market, perhaps it was ready to shore up its position through priority and co-marketing deals with ISPs?  Or maybe the reality of owning and operating its own city networks had precipitated a damascene conversion to non-neutrality?

In fact Google had almost certainly decided it could do the pro-neutrality cause most good by adopting a low, non-strident profile to avoid giving credence to the line that net neutrality is just a Google & Co invention (a line much pushed in Europe where Google has managed to become a corporate villain).

It now appears that Google is actually (but quietly) lobbying hard for the US telco/ISP nightmare - Title II classification for broadband which should give the FCC the power to cherry-pick from a whole range of powers (applying forbearance to the restrictions and requirements it finds inappropriate).

In a letter to the FCC Google says that Google Fiber would benefit greatly from Title II if it gave it access to utility poles and other essential infrastructure owned by utilities. The likes of Comcast and AT&T have access to utility poles by right but Google Fibre has not (it chose not to offer regulated telephone services across its infrastructure).  As a result it has run into problems and extra costs when trying to negotiate access to existing facilities as it’s build out its city networks (fancy that!).

The FCC, it says, should ensure that pole access for ISPs comes along with Title II as this would further lower costs for itself and other data-only fibre network providers who currently spend a lot of money digging trenches, it claims.

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