SBC Sues Walnut Creek

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SBC California, a unit of AT&T Inc., has sued the city of Walnut Creek, where the city has insisted that work permits needed to upgrade its phone plant are subject to municipal cable franchising.

The suit, filed electronically and without fanfare Nov. 17, reasserted the telephone company's argument that its planned video service does not meet the federal definition of a cable service. It is, instead, an interactive on-demand service and not subject to local franchising.

According to the filing in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, SBC California -- which does business in the state under the legal name Pacific Bell Telephone Co. -- showed an “abundance of caution” by seeking permission from the San Francisco Bay city in June for work it is doing to upgrade its phone network.

The suit alleged that SBC's state telephone franchise allows it to work in the public rights of way without the city's permission, but it sought the authorizations anyway.

Walnut Creek officials said they would approve the permits, but only if they included clauses that require SBC to adhere to local cable rules. When SBC refused to accept the city terms, the city declined to issue the permits. SBC stopped its plant improvements in the city after the Oct. 18 vote.

SBC’s suit seeks a declaratory ruling that it has the right to make improvements to its plant, whether for improved phone services or for enhanced services.

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