A Hartford, Conn.-based Internet-service provider wants regulators to help it
lease the dormant cable plant owned by SBC Communications Inc.'s SNET
Gemini Networks Inc. wants Connecticut's Department of Public Utility Control
to label the former hybrid fiber-coaxial cable plant an "unbundled network
element," subject to lease by competitors.
SNET built 4,000 miles of cable plant, connecting 26 Connecticut towns
between Hartford and Greenwich, before deciding that it was "financially
unfeasible" to continue offering cable service.
It wriggled out of statewide construction obligations in 2001 and paid 30,000
cable customers $50 apiece to help make the transition to direct-broadcast
satellite or another cable provider.
Much of SNET's HFC plant remains on poles and in disrepair. Gemini cofounder
Arnold Chase said that infrastructure is taking up space, making it difficult to
for new providers to enter the market.
Chase -- who was a principal in Polish cable provider @Entertainment before
he and his partners sold the system a few years ago -- said SNET built the plant
with the intent of eventually offering telephony, along with video.
"Technically, there's no reason why the network can't do what they intended
to do," he added.
Gemini currently has 80 miles of plant that it built in West Hartford, Conn.,
with the idea of expanding throughout the state to either offer bundled service
or sell wholesale transport. Those hopes were dashed when venture capital dried
up over the last two years.
Gemini wants a pricing hearing to determine how much SNET should be paid for
the use of its plant. It also wants SNET to provide an inventory of all of its
former PersonalVision plant and to report on its condition.
SNET is balking. Vice president of external affairs Michael Phelan said the
telco offered to sell the cable plant to Gemini.
"They don't want to spend the money," he said. "They'd prefer to go to
[regulators] to compel us to upgrade the plant."
SNET officials added that fiber in the plant already is available for lease
to competitive providers, including Gemini. The coaxial cable was only being
used for video and is one-way-capable only.
Two years ago, a small rival, Connecticut Telephone Co., asked regulators to
compel SNET to sell the cable plant in order to maintain cable service. But
officials ruled that they could not force a sale.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has filed to intervene in the
docket on Gemini's petition in an effort to promote competition, his filing