AT&T, Cable Engage In Tennessee Franchising Tussle

Verbal sparring is already heating up in Tennessee over state franchising, even though the legislature won't return to the issue until January.

AT&T Inc.'s Tennessee state president Gregg Morton has been making the rounds of editorial boards and delivering public speeches, such as the one at David Lipscomb University in Nashville Dec. 4. The executive touted franchising reform and made statements now being challenged by incumbent operators. According to published reports, Morton told the college crowd that incumbent providers had created impediments to advocacy advertising by AT&T and its affinity groups.

But Stacey Briggs, the executive director of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, said she investigated the allegation and states the charge is “simply untrue.” She detailed her objections in a letter to Morton, which she also distributed to the media.

Tennessee has two-year legislative sessions, and earlier this year a cable-municipal partnership was able to fight off an AT&T-backed state franchising proposal.

During that legislative fight, Briggs said, the advocacy group TV4US, which is funded in part by AT&T, was sold advertising time on cable systems. Morton has indicated that AT&T has been unable to secure schedules on local cable systems. Commercials are still being accepted, according to Briggs. The bill will be revived in January when the legislature returns to session.

Briggs also challenged statements made by Morton that city-by-city franchising takes 13 months. AT&T has been invited by some Tennessee communities to deploy competitive cable services and those municipalities have promised expedited franchise negotiations, Briggs said, but AT&T has not filed for local franchises in the state, investing its capital instead in a statewide solution.

An AT&T media representative did not respond to a request for comments on Briggs's letter by deadline Thursday.