AT&T won’t say where it’d offer TV if bill passes

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 at 1:28am

Despite lobbying for a bill to start offering television services and compete with cable, AT&T will not say where it would offer those services if legislation were approved.

“For competitive reasons, the company does not outline those plans,” said Bob Corney, an AT&T spokesman. “But, our goal is to try to get our product to as many customers as possible as quickly as possible.”

The legislation AT&T says it needs to start offering television programming was rolled out Monday. It was a compromise bill between AT&T and the cable industry and local governments, and would create a method for a state-issued, as opposed to local, franchising for offering television programming.

That compromise bill cleared its first legislative hurdle Tuesday after receiving the approval of the House Commerce Committee on a voice vote.

While AT&T won’t outline where it initially intends to offer television services, the bill prescribes a timetable for the telecommunications giant.

If the compromise bill passes, AT&T would have one year to apply for a state-issued franchise.

In that franchise agreement, AT&T would have to detail which parts of Tennessee it intends to offer programming. It must offer those areas service within two years of the agreement. The agreement, however, can be altered.

Finally, AT&T would have to offer its television programming service, U-verse, to roughly 600,000 Tennessee households within 3.5 years of the franchise being inked. Of those roughly 600,000, 25 percent have to be low-income.

The ambiguity about where AT&T would offer its services is just something that comes with state-issued franchising, said Stacey Briggs, the executive director of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, which had lobbied against the bill before signing off on the compromise.

“I think that’s just the difference between the state process and the local process where local governments are losing control over where AT&T goes,” Briggs said. “So that’s just the fundamental difference.”

The cable industry uses local franchising, like Comcast in Davidson County, to offer programming.

In addition to the Commerce Committee’s endorsement, the compromise bill also got the backing of Gov. Phil Bredesen on Tuesday.

“To the extent to which it’d really help to improve competitiveness and reduce cable TV rates, I think it’d be a very good thing for the state,” Bredesen said. “I hope it passes.”

Cable rates though are not expected to fall.

Rep. Charles Curtiss (D-Sparta), one of the bill’s sponsors, cautioned that the bill would not cause cable prices to decline but may hold them in check.

During the Commerce Committee’s meeting, Rep. Steve McManus (R-Memphis) complained that AT&T officials and lobbyists said repeatedly last year that the bill would lower cable rates.

“Will somebody tell me what’s happened in the last year?” McManus said. “The consumers are looking for lower rates but now we’re going to pass a bill that does not provide lower rates perhaps.

“What’s changed? Has AT&T changed their mind?”

Curtiss said he never said last year that cable rates would be cut as a result of the legislation.

The legislation now advances to the House Budget Subcommittee.

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By: nativenashville on 12/31/69 at 6:00

SURPRISE !!!Won't say where and it probably won't lower rates...More suprises to come...Does anyone really believe that closed door meetings between AT&T, Comcast, Lobbists and Legislators could be benificial to consumers?

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

As I said before, I am more than happy with Comcast. People say competition would drive down the rate. Well I am not going through the trouble of switching back and forth when one drops a dollar below the other. AT&T will gain some customers that do not have cable but not many will switch from Comcast to AT&T.

By: HokeyPokey on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Nobody should be surprised.Ever since AT&T started trying for this in Tennessee, folks who know better have been trying to tell everyone who will listen what AT&T has done in every other state where it had succeeded.It just happens that AT&T's money-greased megaphone dominated the conversation, and nobody, especially the folks on the hill, could hear the voices of dissent.You're about to get what you were told to ask for, Tennessee, now let's see if you get what you want.

By: Rocket99 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Currently, the only competition to Comcast is one of the satellite companies. Adding AT&T in the mix isn't necessarily a bad thing.This opens the door for other companies to jump in the mix. Who knows what the end results will be. Only time will tell.AT&T does already offer "naked" DSL here and the price for it is comparable to what Comcast charges.

By: global_citizen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

For one, I can't blame them for not disclosing this information before the horse is out of the gate given the negative and spurious attacks of those partial to maintaining the Comcast monopoly. Why give supply any fuel to defeat this progress before it's started.Secondly, who could really blame AT&T for not wanting to provide service to people unlikely to pay their bills? Sorry, but cable TV is not an entitlement.

By: global_citizen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I will never be able to get my head around the silliness of people who think fewer choices is better for the consumer.No one would argue that we'd be better off if we could only buy a Ford, not a Chevy, Honda, or BMW. No one would argue that we'd be better off if we could only buy groceries at Kroger, but not Publix, Harris Teeter, or Whole Foods.Some of you people are just ridiculous with your doom and gloom rhetoric. Guess what? No one is going to force you to switch to AT&T! If you want to stick with Comcast, by all means do so. But what standing do you have to tell other Tennesseans which company they can purchase their cable TV service from? I'll tell you. NONE!

By: vchester on 12/31/69 at 6:00

global, excellent points! More choices almost always = lower prices and better service choices for the consumer. Fewer choices usually indicates a regulated (protected) market where service levels very low and profits are guaranteed, i.e. the old "phone" company environment.Yeah, I really want to go back to those days...

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I love my, I love my, I love my DirectTV...lol

By: Fundit on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Global, I agree. Are you serious, gdi? We switched to direct - hate it and are stuck with it for two years. No local weather on the weather channel. No NewsChannel5 Plus, or the ever entertaining channel 3 that shows the Council and MNPS school board. No On Demand. Limited PPV. etc etc etc

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

No, I was making it up, I usually do that for no reason.Of course I'm serious. The sound and picture quality is 100 times better, I'm not getting screwed in the wallet and I have the channels I want.

By: HokeyPokey on 12/31/69 at 6:00

global, with all due respect the at&t astroturf got to you.Only at&t refused to compete in Tennessee unless the rules were changed to suit them. Charter didn't demand that, nor did Knology in Knoxville. Only at&t while their surrogates were screaming the loudest that you had a god-given right to choose cable operators.What you don't know is, now that at&t convinced the Legislature to change the rules for them, they have changed the rules for cable as well. It will only get worse.With respect to your question "who could really blame AT&T for not wanting to provide service to people unlikely to pay their bills?" I think you're listening to talk radio too much. Just because people earn below the state income median doesn't mean they don't pay their bills. It means they don't spend as much as others who earn more. For them, as your friends at at&t will be happy to tell you since they tell everyone else, cable is a bargain over other forms of entertainment.Be careful of those sweeping generalizations, you might just get swept up in them.

By: global_citizen on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Hokey, you are showing yourself to be a fool. Say you work at a collections center, the kind where people get on the phone to call people who haven't paid their bills. Do you think they make more calls to 37215 or to 37211? Come on, you're not that dense even if you are naively idealistic. AT&T isn't looking to "change the rules". That's loaded language and it's straight from the script of Comcast's mendacious commercials. AT&T is pushing for a more sensible system of telecommunications regulation. The present system is woefully out of date and archaic. By the way, maybe you should read the first article you posted. It really shoots down all the silly propaganda you're spewing.