Charter May Appeal UConn Court Case

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Charter Communications Inc. is mulling its options, now that a Connecticut court has carved the University of Connecticut campus out of an exclusive 16-town franchise the operator holds in that state.

Judge Thomas Bishop ruled Nov. 2 that UConn students comprise a different class of customer than those covered under Charter's franchise agreement.

He also ruled that the Storrs, Conn., campus does not need to obtain a franchise, because it is not a cable operator as defined by state statutes. The on-campus system's bundled video, telephone and data services are not offered to the general public.

"We're studying the decision. Charter strongly disagrees with the judge," said Anita Lamont, spokeswoman for the MSO. "Contrary to his decision, we believe students are real people and part of the general population."

An appeal is under discussion, she added.

"We believed in our position when we filed the lawsuit, and we believe in it today," she added.

The dispute with the university, and ultimately the state, began when the university's Storrs campus declined to extend or renew Charter's service agreement in August 1999.

Instead, the campus cut a deal with a video-services provider called Lamont TV Systems. The partnership resulted in HUSKYvision, a bundled-services offering that includes 75 cable channels, telelphony and high-speed data to residence halls.

The system is supported through a $125 per semester "technical services fee" included in campus housing charges.

Charter complained to the state's Department of Public Utility Control, which affirmed the MSO's exclusive area franchise. But when the university refused to bow and instead, lit up its internal system last January, Charter filed its lawsuit.

Attorneys for the university noted that only 33 of the channels offer broadcast and entertainment programming. The rest of the channels are programmed with reruns of instructional videos, homework assignments, optional lectures and other educational fare. University officials said that the in-house system is key to providing a "top flight, state-of-the-art" educational experience to students.

The attorney who argued the state's case, Richard Blumenthal, argued that Charter is a private video enterprise with no right to exploit the university population or compel access to the state-owned campus.

In his ruling, the judge decreed that state property is not specifically included in Connecticut's mandatory-access statute, so Charter's rights can't be inferred under that measure.

Because of the court ruling, the university will expand bundled services to other campuses as soon as it becomes technically feasible.

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