AT & T, Portland Discuss License Pact

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Portland, Ore., and AT & T Broadband are negotiating a deal that could settle their dispute over the MSO's recent rollout of its AT & T@Home high-speed-data service.

As envisioned, Portland would adopt a new ordinance creating a "license" agreement that would essentially include the same provisions as a telecommunications franchise.

If adopted-and both sides hedged on that prediction last week-the new arrangement would theoretically settle a dispute that erupted after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Portland could not force AT & T to allow unaffiliated Internet-service providers onto its network.

The MSO immediately introduced AT & T@Home in western Portland, even though the 9th Circuit had also ruled that Internet-over-cable is a telecommunications service.

The city insisted that decision meant a separate franchise was necessary before the service could be offered. AT & T, however, believes it does not need such a franchise.

Last week, Portland franchising director David Olson said the proposed license agreement would contain the standard elements found in a telecom franchise.

If details can be hammered out, it would resolve the dispute with AT & T by enabling the telco to proclaim it "never signed a franchise here" or "never really agreed to the city's terms, while in essence operating here in a manner consistent with all of our other telecom franchisees," Olson said.

The arrangement also would avert another costly court fight.

"If the end result is to avoid litigation, then that's just fine with us," Olson said. "It makes no difference to me how AT & T chooses to characterize the [@Home] revenue, so long as compensation is paid, equivalent to the payments of similarly situated companies here."

But whether AT & T is willing to pay a fee on locally generated @Home revenues remains to be seen.

AT & T officials said they met only once with Olson, and that was to discuss extension of the company's long distance franchise. Other "conceptual" talks centered on other businesses AT & T wants to get into locally, including network services and telephony, said regional communications director Debra Luppold.

Luppold stressed that AT & T had not agreed to any license fees, and would not agree until it has seen any conditions that the city may try to impose on it.

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