CO: Qwest playing hardball to gain cable franchise

Posted on August 7, 2007 - 5:54am.

from: Rocky Mountain news

Qwest playing hardball to gain cable franchise

By Jeff Smith, Rocky Mountain News
August 7, 2007
Qwest Communications, rebuffed in previous efforts to land cable TV franchises in Colorado, is now playing hardball.

The Denver telco is giving the city of Arvada 90 days to decide whether to accept a video franchise application.

The application marks the first local test of a new Federal Communications Commission order enabling telcos to put communities on a 90-day shot clock.

"The shot clock took effect today," Qwest spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler said Monday.

She wouldn't say why Arvada was chosen first but did say: "After two years of negotiation, we're now interested in formalizing the process and giving customers an alternative. . . . We encourage the city to approve the application."

Qwest Colorado President Chuck Ward said in a letter to Arvada officials that if the two sides "are unable to negotiate an acceptable agreement . . . then pursuant to FCC rules, Qwest will be authorized to offer service pursuant to an interim franchise."

Tyler declined to say what would happen if Arvada simply rejects the application. But the issue could wind up in litigation.

Said Arvada Mayor Ken Fellman of the shot clock imposed by Qwest: "The law is the law, and we'll deal with it."

One of the main sticking points has been whether Qwest should get franchises without being required to provide TV services throughout a community. Many municipalities fear Qwest will cherry-pick neighborhoods.

Qwest's application to Arvada includes no buildout provision.

The FCC order indicates that a municipality can impose reasonable requirements, such as requiring buildout as a company achieves a certain market success. But it also states conditions shouldn't be stricter than what the incumbent cable TV provider faces.

Qwest apparently put Arvada on a shot clock first in part because it believes Arvada gave Comcast a franchise without requiring it to provide services throughout a community. Services were provided in west Arvada by U S Cable, now partly owned by Comcast.

Fellman said he disagrees with Qwest's interpretation and that Arvada's legal staff has drawn up an amendment attempting to clarify Comcast's obligations.

He also noted that Arvada has been willing to grant a franchise that didn't require Qwest to provide services throughout the entire city, as long as Qwest offered geographically balanced services within the city. He called that a reasonable requirement that Qwest rejected.

Fellman said he was notified by Qwest's Ward on noon Monday that Qwest would be putting Arvada on the shot clock. He said he is curious why Qwest notified the media if this was "purely a business decision."

As the attorney for the Greater Metro Telecommunications Consortium and a proponent of buildout requirements, Fellman has served as a flash point for some of the debate.

Qwest's Arvada application lists nine other potential TV franchise areas in Colorado: Aurora, Broomfield, Castle Rock, Centennial, Colorado Springs, Denver, Jefferson County, Littleton and Thornton.

When asked if Qwest is planning to put other area municipalities on the 90-day shot clock, Tyler said, "Not today."

Qwest has said previously that if it is rejected in its home state, it will invest elsewhere, such as in Arizona, Utah and the Pacific Northwest.

Qwest offers satellite TV services through its partnership with DirecTV. But in Colorado, it offers TV services through phone or fiber lines only to Highlands Ranch and Ridgegate in Lone Tree.

( categories: COLORADO | FCC Video Franchise )