News

Bay State PEG Provider Sues AT&T

3/25/2001 7:00 PM Eastern

The nonprofit corporation that oversees public-access television in Cambridge, Mass. is suing AT&T Broadband for allegedly violating the terms of its license agreement.

Cambridge Community Television, which receives 65 percent of its funding from public access fees collected by AT&T, accused the MSO in Middlesex Superior Court of refusing to make the full annual payment that was due in September 2000.

Under the terms of the city's cable license, which was issued to American Cablesystems in 1985, annual local-access payments to CCTV began in 1986. Each year's payment was equal to 3 percent of the operator's revenues from the previous year.

In 2000-the last year of the contract-the operator's public-access obligation would be an annualized figure based on revenues for the first six months of the year. With AT&T taking in more than $17 million in Cambridge last year, that amounted to more than $533,000, according to CCTV officials.

Instead, AT&T paid $132,000 last January, or approximately one-quarter of what was due, they said.

"By failing to make final payment, AT&T has breached its obligation and the agreement," according to the lawsuit.

A letter from AT&T manager of government affairs for the northeast region Timothy Murnane indicated that the MSO believes it "has fulfilled all obligations in the previous franchise and strongly opposes any such claim for further payments."

"They argue that they don't owe it to us," said CCTV executive director Susan Fleischmann. "Then, why did they pay us a quarter of what was owed?"

Fleischmann also noted that AT&T's check was clearly marked as a "first-quarter payment."

AT&T collected a 3-percent public-access fee from subscribers in Cambridge in 2000. "That money was intended to provide support for public-access services," she said. "CCTV regrets that it has become necessary to force AT&T to honor its written contract. That money was paid in good faith by Cambridge subscribers; it's time AT&T showed some good faith and pay their bill to the community."

Murnane said AT&T could not comment on pending litigation.

"It's safe to say that we have a fundamental disagreement with the local-access folks," he said.