WI: Cable providers in Wisconsin seek statewide franchises

Posted on March 4, 2008 - 5:15pm.

from The Business Journal

Tuesday, March 4, 2008 - 2:55 PM CST
Cable providers in Wisconsin seek statewide franchises
The Business Journal of Milwaukee

Five Wisconsin cable and video service providers - Charter Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable, AT&T Inc., CenturyTel and Comcast Cable - have applied for statewide video franchises under legislation passed last year.

AT&T received approval for its franchise from the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions last week, the nonprofit consumer advocate group TV4US Wisconsin said Tuesday.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), of San Antonio, had lobbied heavily for the bill so the company wouldn't need to sign franchise agreements with every community in the state where the telecom firm plans to introduce its U-Verse online television service. Cable companies, including Time Warner Cable in Milwaukee, have signed such agreements and pay municipalities a percentage of their revenue from customer payments.

If the other applications are approved, Charter, Time Warner, Comcast, and CenturyTel will join AT&T in being able to provide their video services to any municipality in the state. The group said that would create a system of competition that is expected to result in lower prices, improved customer service, and new and better technologies for consumers.

"Three months ago, Wisconsin consumers had about as many choices for cable service as they had thumbs on their right hand," said Thad Nation, Executive Director of TV4US Wisconsin. "But with the passage of the Video Competition Act, it's looking more and more likely that cable subscribers will have a real choice as to who they get their service from in the near future."

The Video Competition Act was signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle in December. The bill opened up Wisconsin's cable market to competition by allowing companies to apply for statewide video franchises.

"Wisconsin consumers want real alternatives to their cable provider, and the state's issuance of a video franchise for AT&T to offer video was a critical step toward making this happen," Scott VanderSanden, president, AT&T Wisconsin, said in a release announcing their approval of a statewide franchise. "The Video Competition Act opens the door to any qualified provider to bring Wisconsin consumers a badly needed video choice."