No Free Ride for AT&T in Stevens Bill

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AT&T Inc.'s Internet-protocol-TV service would need to comply with video-franchising provisions in telecommunications legislation (S. 2686) sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), a Senate staff member said Monday.

“They are not exempt,” said a Senate staff member, who declined to be identified. “If there is any ambiguity in the language, we will modify it.”

Under the Stevens bill, a new video service provider may enter a cable market within 90 days under a streamlined application process created by the Federal Communications Commission for the mandatory use by cities and towns across the country.

A cable incumbent opts in to the new system upon the expiration of a franchise or upon the entry of a new video service provider.

AT&T has argued that its IPTV service isn’t covered by existing franchising provisions in Title VI of the Communications Act because IPTV is not a “cable service” offered by a “cable operator” as those terms are defined in the law.

Local governments lobbied the Senate Commerce Committee staff to ensure that IPTV providers had to comply with franchising obligations in the Stevens bill.

“They wanted to make sure that [AT&T] was covered,” a Senate staff member said.

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