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AT&T Conn. Franchise Fight Heads to Court

The top agency representing consumers in the state of Connecticut joined the New England Cable Telecommunications Association to challenge the action of another state agency, the Department of Public Utility Control, which ruled last month that AT&T does not need a franchise to provide cable service.

The federal lawsuit, filed July 19 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut in New Haven, asked the court to declare that a video provider supplying programming prescheduled by that company does not meet the definition of an "interactive on-demand service provider." This is AT&T's preferred definition of its planned Internet-protocol-delivered U-verse video service.

The state's Office of Consumer Counsel and NECTA asked the court to declare that the product meets the federal definition of a cable service and, therefore, to require AT&T to obtain a franchise.

If the court rules in the plaintiff's favor, the suit would undo the June 7 action by the DPUC. The state's utility regulators -- which proactively opened a docket to address the question of franchising of telephone-industry video products -- concluded last month that video over IP is "merely another form of data stream," and it does not need a franchise. The DPUC approves franchises on behalf of communities in the state.

The suit targeted both the DPUC and AT&T Connecticut. Verizon Communications is not a party to the suit, as that company acknowledged that its video product, delivered via fiber-to-the-node, meets the definition of a cable service and is subject to state franchising.