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FL: Crist lauds AT$T climb into cable, Internet ring

By saveaccess
Created 09/20/2007 - 9:07pm

from: News Press [1]

Crist lauds AT&T climb into cable, Internet ring
By Jim Ash Tallahassee Bureau
Originally posted on September 20, 2007

TALLAHASSEE — Communications giant AT&T of Florida announced today it is investing $750 million to bring high-speed Internet and video to customers it hopes to lure from traditional TV cable companies.

Gov. Charlie Crist heralded the move at an afternoon press conference and credited a new law he championed that opened up the market to more competition.

“It’s good for Florida consumers,” Crist said. “This new law also represents an opportunity to expand Florida’s economy.”

Company president Marshall Criser was tight-lipped however, refusing for competitive reasons to say which parts of the state the company would target first for its “U-verse” TV service that is transmitted over high-speed, broadband Internet connections.

Rep. Trey Traviesa, a Tampa Republican who sponsored the bill, predicted the move would prompt more businesses to compete in Florida and eventually create 7,000 jobs.

Considered one of the most expensive and heavily lobbied fights of the legislative session, the cable franchise bill pit traditional cable providers against telephone companies that wanted to dip into the cable market.

Cable companies argued that phone providers should be treated as they have, and be forced to negotiate individual franchise agreements with local governments.

The new law allows the non-traditional providers to gain a statewide franchise.

Consumer advocates warned about the loss of local control. Minorities argued that deregulation would widen the digital divide when the new providers offered their premium services in only the wealthiest neighborhoods.

Traviesa sweetened the legislation by adding automatic enrollment in a life-line telephone service for seniors and a roll-back of the final phase of a massive telephone rate increase lawmakers passed in 2003.

Traveisa estimated the rollback would save consumers as much as $300 million.

That was apparently enough for Crist, who fought the telephone rate hike when he was attorney general.

Crist signed the bill in May, but still expressed concerns.

He said he intended to ask lawmakers for new regulations that would allow the state to suspend or revoke the licenses and pledged to fight to make sure that all customers benefit from the increased competition.

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