Survey: Cities Favor TCI-AT&T Deal

Publish date:
Updated on

San Diego -- More than 80 percent of city regulators
believe that the proposed Tele-Communications Inc.-AT&T Corp. merger will take place,
according to a survey released last week.

Unveiled at the National Association of Telecommunications
Officers and Advisors' annual conference here, the poll also revealed that 53 percent
of city officials support the merger, compared with 24 percent who oppose the deal.

The three-week survey, conducted by Connie Book of North
Carolina State University between Aug. 5 and Sept. 1, attracted responses from 52
regulators in cities with populations of between 12,500 and 3 million.

"My gut feeling is that this is what you would find if
you sampled 500 of them," Book said. "[But] this is a good representation of
people with different agendas."

The survey found that support for the merger was based on
AT&T's reputation for customer service, the deal's potential for introducing
competition to the local loop, the benefits of technological convergence and the phone
carrier's deep pockets.

Those opposed, however, indicated that the deal will mean
less choice for consumers, since AT&T was originally envisioned as a TCI competitor.
They also worried that it would "muddy" the waters on franchise fees because of
the distinction between cable and telecommunications services.

Among the negative comments expressed were fears by city
officials that once the merger is completed, AT&T will push for common-carrier
treatment, thereby reducing local oversight over the new company, Book said.

"They also anticipate higher rates," Book added.
"They anticipate that people will have more technological choice, but less choice
among providers."

In good news for cable operators, the poll revealed that
only 8.5 percent of respondents reported that their cities were "very
interested" in providing municipal cable service, while 25 percent were "not at
all interested."

Only 4.3 percent were interested in delivering local
telephone service, compared with 28.3 percent who were not interested.

Internet access was a dead heat, however, with 17.4 percent
each interested and not interested in offering the service.

TCI officials said the survey indicates that regulators are
"excited about the merger."

"Our cities are excited about competition in the local
telephone market and excited about new services," said Madie Gustafson, TCI's
senior vice president of franchising and government affairs. "They see the benefits
to consumers and customers."