The Connecticut regulators in charge of issuing video franchise licenses have turned down a petition from the state's attorney general to make AT&T get one. The state Department of Public Utility Control told Attorney General Richard Blumenthal it would not require AT&T to get a franchise license pending the outcome of a federal court challenge. The PUC's decision allows AT&T to continue building out its U-verse system and signing up subscribers.
In late July, Connecticut U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton overruled the PUC's position that U-verse wasn't a cable TV service and therefore did not require a franchise license. However, the PUC noted in its rejection of the attorney general's petition that the court has yet to issue its final judgment or answered a pending motion for reconsideration. The original lawsuit was filed against the PUC by the state's Office of Consumer Counsel and the regional cable lobby, the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association.
The cable industry is peeved in general over the refashioning of video franchise laws in several states because their constituents are still operating under established and often more demanding franchise agreements. The Federal Communications Commission was set to extend its telco franchise rules to cable at its regular meeting today, but the agenda item was dropped Friday possibly due to a lack of votes. Earlier this year, the FCC issued rules forcing municipalities into franchise agreements within a given timeframe, and prohibiting them from making new entrants serve all households in a given community. The rules were crafted with AT&T and Verizon in mind, but cable operators demanded a level playing field.
Veteran telecom lawyer Jane Bremer of Jane Bremer Law in Minneapolis said the cable industry is in a position to sue the FCC. She said it was unlikely the FCC rules would stand. In the meantime, AT&T passed the 100,000-subscriber mark for U-verse.
The trade-off for AT&T and Verizon getting into television is more competition for cable but less franchise control at the local level. Municipalities, however, are not giving up without a fight.