Connecticut franchise fight continues

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is standing firm against AT&T, contending that telcoTV should be franchised the same as cable TV. Blumenthal filed an emergency petition last week with the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control that AT&T be ordered to seek a cable franchise license for its IPTV service, U-verse. From the outset of launching U-verse commercially a little over a year ago, AT&T has contended that it's an information service, and therefore not subject to the same regulations as cable TV. The Connecticut PUC agreed, but a federal judge there ruled otherwise last month and Blumenthal is rolling with it.

"The federal court's ruling provides a legal foundation for the fact that an unequal playing field for video services is unacceptable and illegal, and that the legal structures already in place in state and federal law demand balance among the service providers," Blumenthal wrote in a statement.

The big telco lobbies fought tooth and nail in Washington last year for a telecom reform bill that would give them nationwide franchising rights. They argued that it would allow them to deploy TV much faster and create more competition for cable providers, who have to nail down franchise agreements with some 40,000 local governments. Most of those agreements require the cable operator to build an infrastructure to serve everyone in the community--the build-out requirement--something Verizon and AT&T desperately wanted to avoid.

The bid for a telecom bill failed, but the Federal Communications Commission stepped in with a nationwide franchising template, of sorts. Several states also passed uniform franchising laws, including Connecticut, but Blumenthal contends that it does not preclude the need for AT&T to obtain franchise licenses. The Connecticut DPUC had not acted on the petition at press time, nor did AT&T respond to queries. It's in the telco's best interest to keep a very low profile on this one, since other states may sit up and take note.

For more:
- The Office of the Connecticut Attorney General's Press Release
- LegalNewsline covers the story here

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