TN: AT$T approached states after U.S. franchise failed

Posted on March 25, 2008 - 6:51am.

from: The Tennessean

AT&T approached states after U.S. franchise failed
Bill would bypass local contracts

By THEO EMERY • Staff Writer • March 23, 2008

Tennessee's battle over cable franchising is not unique.

After an attempt to establish nationwide cable franchising failed, AT&T went to work in legislatures across the country to seek statewide access to cable markets, said Bob Williams, the director of, a Web site of the Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

More than 20 states now allow statewide cable franchising, of which AT&T is a prime beneficiary. Legislation introduced in 11 other states, including Tennessee, has stalled or failed, according to the data from the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

The battle has been fierce because AT&T wants to change the model by which cable television offers services in communities. For decades, traditional cable companies have worked out contracts with individual cities, towns and counties to provide services.

Local franchising essentially gave monopoly status to cable companies, but it also provided community leverage. Local officials could regulate service quality, force companies to provide services equitably, and set aside stations for local programming.
Access is issue

The major objections to statewide franchising center on whether AT&T will be permitted to "cherry-pick" wealthy communities for service while ignoring poor ones, and whether they will be required to extend their infrastructure — called "buildout" — outside prime markets, such as cities.

Corney said those issues are simply roadblocks thrown up by what he called "incumbent" providers — the existing cable companies.

"Our feeling here is we want a level playing field to compete, to provide our product, which we are very excited about," Corney said. "At the end of the day, we want consumers to decide and to have choices."

Local governments and cable companies have fought back fiercely.

Stacey Briggs of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association said buildout and cherrypicking are real issues, and that AT&T should have to follow the same rules as traditional cable companies.

"They say they want to streamline the process, but what they really want to do is circumvent that requirement that they go into every neighborhood," she said.

Contact Theo Emery at or 726-4889.

( categories: AT&T | State Franchises | TENNESSEE )