Cable Firms Rip Conn. IPTV Order

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Citing possible pre-emptive action by the federal government, incumbent cable companies and state officials in Connecticut asked the utility regulator there to stay its own recent order attempting to classify IPTV as a non-cable service.

Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control commissioners on June 7 determined that video products delivered via the Internet — such as what AT&T Inc. plans to do in the state and elsewhere in the country — should be treated the same as any other data streams that flow through the Internet. The impact: such a product wouldn’t require the type of multichannel video franchise that cable companies need to obtain.

A.G. IS ON BOARD, TOO

The state’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal; the state Office of Consumer Counsel; the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association; Cablevision Systems Corp. and units of Charter Communications and Cox Communications Inc. on June 13 asked the DPUC to put the June 7 decision on hold.

“This was a bad, anti-consumer decision by the DPUC,” NECTA president Paul Cianelli said last week. “The agency should not compound its misjudgment by rushing to implement a decision that is likely to be pre-empted by Congress, the [Federal Communications Commission] and the courts.”

The day after the DPUC made its groundbreaking classification, Congress voted to adopt HR 5252, sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the decision opponents noted.

Barton’s bill, as currently written, would give the FCC the authority to grant 10-year franchises to new providers such as AT&T or Verizon Communications Inc.

The stay request also notes that the Connecticut commissioners disagreed over the legal issues stated in the decision, leading to a 3-2 vote.

“A strong likelihood of a court-issued stay being issued certainly must be recognized by the department,” according to the stay request, especially as the Connecticut decision would grant AT&T far more rights with fewer consumer protections than are contemplated than federal regulation would provide.

WAIT, OPPONENTS SAY

Opponents of the decision say the utility panel should retain jurisdiction over AT&T’s video efforts until a court rejects or affirms the state ruling — or until Congress completes its actions or the FCC rules on the legal definition of IPTV.

Until then, AT&T should be required to obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the state before it installs any video-related infrastructure in the state, opponents have argued.

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