Conn. Stymies U-Verse Expansion

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AT&T will have to garage the roving ice cream trucks that have distributed treats and touted its U-Verse services in Connecticut.

While the telephone company may continue to serve its 7,000 Connecticut video customers, utility regulators ruled Oct. 15 that the telephone company may not market nor add customers to its Internet Protocol-delivered video service until it applies for, and is awarded, a certificate of public convenience. AT&T must also stop building any infrastructure that is used solely for video provision, according to an order by the Department of Public Utility Control.

The DPUC stopped further deployment when it rejected AT&T's application for a certificate of video franchising authority. That is a new category, authorized under the new state franchising law, that allows new video competitors to do business in Connecticut.

But the DPUC ruled that not only is AT&T not eligible for that certificate — for it is already delivering services in the state as a cable operator — but that it is also operating in the state illegally as a video provider.

AT&T blasted the ruling, stating the DPUC has taken away the only current competition to cable TV and threatened to eliminate jobs and further investment in the state.

“In making this ruling, the DPUC ignored both the spirit and the letter of a brand-new consumer-friendly law and is protecting the cable monopoly,” said Ramona Carlow, AT&T state president overseeing regulatory and external affairs in a statement, adding that consumers should be “outraged” competition has been taken away.

AT&T intends to appeal the ruling in the state's Superior Court.

Incumbent cable operators responded that AT&T can compete now.

“We believe in competition and we welcome AT&T into the video market. Nothing in the latest DPUC or court decision prevents AT&T from providing video service in Connecticut. They only ensure fair and equitable treatment for all Connecticut citizens, regardless of income or where they live,” said New England Cable & Telecommunications Association president Paul Cianelli.

The DPUC ruling is the latest chapter in a 15-month-long debate over the legal definition of IP video. The DPUC took a proactive look at the product last year, ruling in June that IP video is more akin to a data service and was not subject to cable regulation. AT&T proceeded to deploy its video product.

NECTA and the state Office of Consumers Counsel challenged the DPUC decision in court. On July 26, Judge Janet Bond Arterton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut ruled against AT&T, finding that IP video is a cable service and subject to cable regulation.

As AT&T was attempting to convince Arterton to review and reverse her ruling, it filed for the certificate of video franchising authority.

The DPUC ruling last week directs AT&T to file for operating authority akin to that governing current cable providers. The telephone company has been given until Dec. 31 to do so.

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