Three Illinois communities find themselves the targets of litigation from AT&T Inc.
The villages of Roselle, with a population of approximately 23,000, and Carpentersville, with about 36,000 residents, and the city of Wheaton, with about 55,000 citizens, have been named in separate lawsuits in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
The complaints, by the AT&T unit Illinois Bell Telephone Co., accuse the communities of violating state and federal law for failing to issue “siting” permits to the telco for its plant upgrade.
AT&T (formerly SBC Communications Inc.) approached each community for permission to install powering vaults in rights of way to enable advanced services, including video delivery.
AT&T uses the shorthand “52B” to refer to the hardware, so city officials have begun calling them “B-52s,” alluding to the massive warplane.
Roselle responded with a 180-day moratorium on siting permits; Carpentersville and Wheaton declined the permits.
Cities across the country are questioning whether AT&T must obtain a cable franchise along with its siting permits, believing the plant improvements are for video delivery, an offering municipalities say constitutes cable service and can be regulated.
AT&T claims its planned video service, to be delivered via Internet protocol, is a telecommunications service not subject to local regulation.
AT&T’s complaints argue that it’s illegal, under state and federal law, to link plant permits to a commitment to negotiate a franchise some time in the future.
“We’re disappointed we’ve had to take this step to protect rights we’ve had for more than 100 years,” said Brendan Reilly, Midwest vice president of public affairs for AT&T.
He said AT&T is sensitive to the concerns of local governments and, even though its planned service is not a cable product, has “offered to make governments whole” with the payment of franchise fees and preservation of public, educational and government channels.
AT&T had previously sued over the same civic issues in California. The parties in the initial case to go to court — a complaint against the community of Walnut Creek — are awaiting a formal ruling from Judge Maxine Chesney in U.S. District Court there on a motion by the city to dismiss the case.
The California Cable & Telecommunications Association has a request pending to intervene in the case to argue side-by-side with Walnut Creek.
Chesney indicated in open court she was inclined to dismiss the federal counts and defer to the state courts to adjudicate the alleged state law violations, according to Paul Valle-Riestra, senior assistant city attorney for Walnut Creek.