Two Northern California cities were stymied in their
attempts 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 Clara
County Superior Court to issue an order preventing the cable operator from shifting their
local-access stations off their plum channel 6 assignments in favor of a regional
But on the day of the hearing, they were notified that
AT&T Broadband wants the issue heard in federal court in San Jose, Calif. The operator
sought the change of venue, citing the federal Telecommunications Act as the overriding
policy on the case.
The cities -- along with Milpitas and Mountain View in
AT&T Broadband's huge San Francisco Bay-area cluster -- are angry that the
universal channel lineup the operator is implementing will bump their local channels from
their 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 on
channel 6 for many years. It has been lobbying for that placement in the balance of the
systems for many years so that it can promote itself at one cable placement.
But the effort has been stymied because the slot is the
home of local access for several of the cities -- and, in the case of Los Gatos and
Saratoga, the protected home. The franchise agreements in both of those communities
include a guarantee for the city's use of channel 6 unless the slot is needed to meet
federal must-carry obligations.
Since KICU is already carried, the cities don't see
why the operator feels the need to better its channel placement.
AT&T Broadband officials said commercial broadcasters
are 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 shift
channels 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 its
programming by channel number. Research shows that consumers are more familiar with the
number 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. The
public-access stations for both communities -- KSAR and KCAT, respectively -- were moved
to channel 15. Milpitas' station was moved the same day and to the same assignment in
its community. Mountain View won't lose its assignment until its current upgrade is
completed, 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 and
an injunction hearing back to state court.