AT&T Promises to Abide by Barton Bill


AT&T Inc. promised a top House Democrat that its video service will be regulated under the terms established by a new telecommunications bill expected to be approved Wednesday by a House subcommittee.

“To the extent … that you and other members may be concerned that AT&T would not be covered by the draft [bill], we would welcome discussions with the [Energy and Commerce Committee] to ensure that AT&T’s video offering falls under the bill,” an AT&T official said in a letter to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) Monday.

The House bill, sponsored by Energy and Commerce chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), would make a national cable franchise available to phone companies in effort to bypass franchising at the municipal level. Lawmakers on the House Subcommittee on the Internet were to begin debate on the bill Tuesday afternoon and vote on amendments Wednesday.

National franchises would be awarded to providers of “cable service” as defined by federal law. AT&T’s position was, and is, that its Project Lightspeed video service does not meet the cable-service definition. AT&T sued Walnut Creek and Lodi, Calif., when those cities rejected its claim that its video service isn't a cable service.

In a March 29 letter to AT&T chairman and CEO Edward Whitacre, Dingell demanded responses to his concerns that if the bill became law, AT&T would be in position to claim that it was exempt from its terms, including payment of 5% of gross revenue to local governments and requirements to serve all income strata in a community.

AT&T executive vice president Timothy McKone told Dingell that if it were “conclusively determined” that AT&T's video service was a cable service, “then clearly, the service would fall within the ambit of the national franchise.” But, he added, if it’s not a cable service, “then AT&T would not be subject to franchise regulations under the Cable Act, including as modified by this draft bill.”

McKone explained that in order to reassure Dingell and other House members, AT&T would cooperate in seeing that the House bill covered its video service.