AT&T Tries to End Old Rate Dispute

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AT&T Broadband & Internet Services and regulatorsin Arlington, Texas, were still trying to negotiate a settlement last week that would endfour years worth of rate disputes.

City officials are haggling with the MSO over rate hikesdating back to 1996 -- when the suburban Dallas system was operated by Tele-CommunicationsInc. -- which have continued to sit unaddressed at the Federal Communications Commission.

Having missed an Oct. 5 deadline, Jennifer Howry, assistantto the city manager, said she hopes to have a final agreement ready for the City Councilnext week.

After having its latest offer rejected, AT&T Broadbandwas expected to respond to the city's Oct. 7 counteroffer by last Wednesday, MSOspokeswoman Angel Biasatti said.

"There really is no problem," she said. "Wewant to settle this as much as the city of Arlington does."

At issue is the size of the refund the city is seeking for61,000 AT&T Broadband subscribers in the Dallas suburb, Howry said.

"We're really not that far apart," sheadded. "I don't think it's anything we can't meet in the middleon."

In its 1999 rate order, Arlington demanded that AT&TBroadband cut 13 cents per month off its basic rate. The MSO obtained an emergency stayfrom the FCC that allowed it to charge the higher rates, while preventing the city fromenforcing an ordinance making it a criminal misdemeanor for the company not to abide bythe city's rate order.

An agreement in Arlington would settle two of the threemajor rate disputes AT&T has in the Dallas Metroplex.

The company recently said it will pay out a total of$967,000 to 50,000 subscribers in nearby Plano, Texas, ending four years of squabbling inthat jurisdiction.

Under the Plano deal, cable viewers get $4.98 creditsduring each of the next four months. AT&T Broadband will also stop collecting a30-cent-per-month surcharge it had used to recover the cost of unpaid franchise fees, andit will contribute $133,000 to the city.

However, the operator still needs to settle withneighboring Richardson, Texas, which won't budge on its demand for a35-cent-per-month cut in basic-cable rates, Biasatti said.

Not true, said Brian Davis, Richardson franchising andregulatory-affairs officer.

"The city is always willing to listen to anythingAT&T has to say. But they haven't approached us," he added.

Unlike Arlington and Plano, Richardson did manage to pry anorder out of the FCC, which has already slashed three years worth of TCI rate increases.However, the commission has not addressed its 1999 order, making a settlement likely.