Calif. Cities Try to Block Lineup Shift

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Two Northern California cities were stymied in theirattempts to get an injunction against AT&T Broadband & Internet Services'universal channel lineup when the operator got the dispute moved out of state court.

Los Gatos and Saratoga wanted the judge in Santa ClaraCounty Superior Court to issue an order preventing the cable operator from shifting theirlocal-access stations off their plum channel 6 assignments in favor of a regionalbroadcaster.

But on the day of the hearing, they were notified thatAT&T Broadband wants the issue heard in federal court in San Jose, Calif. The operatorsought the change of venue, citing the federal Telecommunications Act as the overridingpolicy on the case.

The cities -- along with Milpitas and Mountain View inAT&T Broadband's huge San Francisco Bay-area cluster -- are angry that theuniversal channel lineup the operator is implementing will bump their local channels fromtheir low channel numbers in favor of San Jose-based KICU.

The independent broadcaster's off-air station is 36,but the operator noted that it has been carried on cable in the majority of the region onchannel 6 for many years. It has been lobbying for that placement in the balance of thesystems for many years so that it can promote itself at one cable placement.

But the effort has been stymied because the slot is thehome of local access for several of the cities -- and, in the case of Los Gatos andSaratoga, the protected home. The franchise agreements in both of those communitiesinclude a guarantee for the city's use of channel 6 unless the slot is needed to meetfederal must-carry obligations.

Since KICU is already carried, the cities don't seewhy the operator feels the need to better its channel placement.

AT&T Broadband officials said commercial broadcastersare accorded "protected-species" classification under federal must-carry rules.Further, communities were on notice for two years about a possible shift.

The MSO told customers this summer that it would shiftchannels throughout the region to unify the lineups of the systems it has acquired,including former Tele-Communications Inc., Viacom Inc. and InterMedia Partners properties.

A single lineup will allow the operator to promote itsprogramming by channel number. Research shows that consumers are more familiar with thenumber of their favorite stations than the call letters or network affiliation.

Further, the shift will create affinity groups of channels,which the operator believes will be more channel-surfer-friendly.

The shift was made Sept. 22 in Saratoga and Los Gatos. Thepublic-access stations for both communities -- KSAR and KCAT, respectively -- were movedto channel 15. Milpitas' station was moved the same day and to the same assignment inits community. Mountain View won't lose its assignment until its current upgrade iscompleted, possibly early next year.

No date has been set to hear the dispute in federal court,but the cities filed for an expedited hearing on jurisdiction in the hopes of a remand andan injunction hearing back to state court.

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