AT&T Fights Indiana Disclosure Rule

Incumbent video providers and some state officials are opposing a move by AT&T Indiana to keep information about its deployment of video service from becoming public.

In a filing to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, the phone company argues that its attempts to launch competitive video service will be harmed if its competitors can see data in mandated quarterly reports. As a video-service provider, AT&T is supposed to provide regulators with maps of its deployment, detailed to the census-block level.

In the petition, attorney Brian Robinson said that distribution of this information outside the commission will have a “substantial detrimental effect” on the company. Thomas Hess, director of the telco's regulatory departments, added competitors could use the information to craft “extremely targeted marketing efforts” that would not be possible without the information in AT&T's reports.

The telephone company also asserts that the information it wishes to protect meets the state code definition of confidential and trade secrets.

The commission held a public hearing on the request on Sept., 10 and further discussion is scheduled for Oct. 9.

One of the opponents of AT&T's petition is state Sen. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington), also a telecommunications professor at Indiana University. Pierce opposed the bill, passed in March 2005, that transferred video-franchising authority from local regulatory hands to the state commission. That law does not mandate a buildout to all communities, but forbids providers from avoiding service to low-income areas.

“It's my contention that there's no hope on enforcing the provision if it's a secret where they are operating,” Pierce said. If a member of the public suspects their neighborhood has been subjected to redlining, the only way to find out is a map, he added.

Pierce added that Verizon Communications Inc. has submitted the deployment information required by regulators. AT&T is the only vendor requesting confidentiality.

In addition to the lawmaker, The state's Office of Utility Consumer Counselor opposes AT&T's request.

Tim Oakes, the vice president and general counsel for the Indiana Cable Telecommunications Association, said AT&T's request “rings hollow.” Everyone else is obliged to report on their service areas and have done so, including small telephone companies moving into video service.

Since AT&T has to install large powering vaults, dubbed 52Bs, to enable its video service, “We know where they are — it's no secret,” Oakes said.

Operators also learn about deployments by questioning consumers if they call to disconnect in order to buy video service from AT&T; and pricing and packaging and service availability information can be obtained by anyone who enters a phone number on AT&T's Web site, he noted.