Pa. Burg Down on AT&T


A Pennsylvania hamlet — playing David to Goliaths AT&T Broadband and Comcast Corp. — has asked a court to appoint a trustee to run its cable system amidst a franchise-transfer dispute.

In a suit filed April 13 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the borough of Blawnox, a Pittsburgh suburb with about 1,500 residents, wants the court to oust the operators.

Borough officials contend they denied transfer of the system — which operates as Comcast Cablevision of the South Inc. — to AT&T Corp. They also claim operators deceived the community about the system's true ownership status after the denial vote.

"It is clear to me, based upon AT&T's arrogant and high-handed attitude toward subscribers, coupled with wholesale programming changes, that AT&T is really calling the shots," borough council president Sam McNaughton said in a press release last week.

Borough attorney Fred Polner said that if regulators can't trust the franchisee, the operator fails the "legal ability" test that municipalities apply in considering a transfer, he said.

Blawnox wants the court to enjoin the companies from operating the system. It is also seeking an extended refranchise deadline; the last one expired March 30.

AT&T Broadband spokesman Steve Lang said municipalities representing 654,000 cable customers approved the Comcast-AT&T transfers and Blawnox was the exception. He was confident that Comcast would work out a compromise.