CT: Regular channels on AT$T sought for community access

Posted on March 9, 2008 - 8:05am.

from: Record Journal

Regular channels on AT&T sought for community access
By: George Moore, Staff

HARTFORD - Public television officials and others argued before the state legislature Friday that AT&T should be required to offer community access and government television as regular channels in its new U-verse television service.

AT&T's new "internet protocol" television service plans to offer all of the state's local community access stations under a drop-down menu accessed from a single channel, 99.

Community access officials said it would take as long as a minute to find a community access program and that the signal quality would not match that of commercial stations.

Officials discussed AT&T's new service as a part of hearing on a bill before the General Assembly's Committee on Energy and Technology.

The U-verse presentation of community access programming "looks like YouTube on TV," said Jennifer Evans, production manager for West Hartford Community Television. The law, she said, should "insist that public access be delivered at equivalent capacity."

After selecting a public access channel on U-verse, a viewer would have to wait for software to launch that would display the channel.

"Nobody, I hate to say it, in our world is going to wait a minute to watch a channel," said state Rep. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford.

But AT&T public affairs Director David Mancuso said after the hearing the U-verse presentation is no worse than the cable system.

It's a different system, he said, based on a new digital technology that offers "a new world of programming opportunities" for public access stations.

"I think change is always disruptive and I think that's probably where their concerns are rooted," he said.

While the delay to watch public access is about 15 seconds, he said, that might speed up with technological improvements.

Energy and Technology Committee Chairman Steve Fontana, D-North Haven, noted that U-verse is still required to offer community access, "albeit in a time-consuming drop-down menu."

Fontana said U-verse technology does not allow the company to offer public access channels in the same way that traditional cable companies do.

Mandating that U-verse provide public access in regular channels would effectively "undermine their ability to compete," Fontana said, which would then undermine the state's interest in allowing for video competition in the state.

Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said in testimony read by a town official that "the principles of fairness should not be sacrificed in the interest of technology changes."

Fontana said the bill would require AT&T to pay for the connection equipment needed to link U-verse to community access stations.

U-verse has been asking community access stations to pay $5,000 for an encoder to connect to U-verse.

Mancuso said the company is arguing against the mandate, stating it is better for AT&T to negotiate with community access stations to find a solution.

Also testifying Friday was Paul Giguere, president and CEO of Connecticut Network or CT-N.

A battle has erupted between CT-N and AT&T about whether CT-N should be offered with a broadcast quality equivalent to that of CSPAN.

AT&T has offered to give CT-N a listing among commercial channels, but the channel would be displayed at the same resolution of public access channels.

The company also has offered to broadcast a second CT-N channel that would carry other internet content.

Giguere said the setup would essentially downgrade CT-N's video quality. Even though CT-N offered to install a high-quality connection to U-verse, he said the company would not agree to a commercial-quality broadcast for CT-N.

"They refused to accept it that way," he said. "Instead, they want to degrade our signal and make it like an Internet Web site."

Mancuso said the proposed video quality is acceptable and the company would respond if customers had complaints.

"The point is, he's asking to be treated like a commercial channel and he's not," Mancuso said. "We would argue that the video quality is very much acceptable."

CT-N has posted a video comparison of public access on U-verse and cable at http://www.ctn.state.ct.us/compare/.

( categories: AT&T | CONNECTICUT )