Ameritech New Media plans to fight a recent regulatory
ruling that's preventing it from offering its controversial 'AmeriChecks' marketing
program in Michigan.
The video arm of Ameritech Corp. said last week that it
will ask the Michigan Court of Appeals to overturn a Public Service Commission ruling
prohibiting it from dispensing AmeriChecks vouchers to new cable subscribers in the state.
The company has until March 16 to file briefs with the
court, and cable opponents have until April 17 to respond, making a final decision
unlikely before midyear.
Elsewhere, Ameritech is awaiting a ruling from the Ohio
Supreme Court, which it has asked to throw out a similar ruling last summer by the Public
Utilities Commission of Ohio that banned the program in that state on the grounds that it
The AmeriChecks plan offered consumers signing up for ANM
cable-television service up to $120 per year in vouchers that could be applied to other
Ameritech services, including regulated local telephone service.
However, Michigan regulators struck down that provision of
the special promotion, claiming that it violated the Michigan Telecommunications Act by
discriminating against consumers who did not sign up for cable service.
Ameritech will abide by the PSC's decision until it gets a
decision from the appellate court.
'The AmeriChecks campaign is continuing in Michigan for all
deregulated services,' said ANM president Deborah Lenart during a press conference in
Washington, D.C., last week. 'It's written on our marketing letters, so you can see what
you can and can't use it on right now.'
Chris Horak, spokesman for the Michigan Cable
Telecommunications Association, which joined the state's largest MSOs in bringing the
original complaint against AmeriChecks, said an appeal was not unexpected.
'We thought that they would appeal, considering how far
they've taken the issue in Ohio,' Horak said.
Meanwhile, sources said whether or not Ameritech can win in
Ohio remains problematic. The state Supreme Court rejected the company's request for a
stay of the PUCO's order, but it did agree to hear its appeal.
Ed Kozelek, the Ohio Cable Television Association's vice
president of regulatory affairs, said the industry group has filed briefs arguing that the
AmeriChecks plan discriminated against non-Ameritech cable customers.
'In effect, that's what it did, because it was only
Ameritech New Media cable customers who could get lower local phone bills,' Kozelek said.
Lenart accused cable operators in both states of trying to
prevent consumers from receiving a 'bundled package' of services.
'We continue to believe that we're following the letter of
the law,' she said. 'This is something that the cable operators are doing to slow us down,
and it's keeping consumers from getting that choice and the ability to receive that