Pre-Emptive Strike in Tenn.

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The Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association is countering an AT&T-based state franchising reform strategy before the telco has even submitted a bill in that state.

The cable trade group anticipates a proposal similar to those that have succeeded in other states, moving franchising authority from multiple community governments to a single point of contact at the state level.

Kevin Blackburn, vice president of external affairs for AT&T, confirmed that the telco would submit a bill for consideration in about two weeks. It will propose that the Department of State, or its secretary, be the statewide cable authority in place of city governments.

“This issue is about competition and choice,” he said. A simplified process will speed competitors to market, he said.

“Companies offering new services should go through competitive channels already open to them,” Stacey Briggs, TCTA’s executive director, said in a statement. “BellSouth/AT&T has new products and they should bring those to consumers through a front door that is already wide open to them through local franchise applications and contracts.” (The merger of AT&T and BellSouth was approved by the FCC last month.)

The association lit up a Web site this week on the issue, www.CableConnectsTennessee.com. There, it argues the incumbent cable operator’s point of view on state franchising: that it’s a shortcut that has not been enjoyed by companies that have been serving customers for years, and that AT&T will not build out whole communities, as incumbents have.

Tennessee will be just one of the state legislative battlegrounds this year:

  • In Massachusetts, State Sen. Steven Panagiotakas (D-Lowell) and Rep. James Vallee, (D-Franklin) are sponsoring a Verizon-backed bill. The measure, which has not yet been set for its first hearing in the joint committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, proposes a transfer of authority from city governments to the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy. That department would have 15 days to vet and approve an application.
  • Colorado’s cable-industry organization will also argue that a bill there is unnecessary. Qwest Communications International has been circulating drafts of a proposal, according to Jeff Wiest, deputy director of the Colorado Cable & Telecommunications Association. A bill should be introduced by the Jan. 31 filing deadline, sponsored by state Rep. David Balmer (R-Centennial).
  • The Missouri General Assembly will also mull over a bill that will allow for statewide franchising that will allow some of the state’s incumbents to opt into that process. A proposal failed last year.

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