AT&T Files to Become ‘Competitive Video Provider’

AT&T filed an application Monday with the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control to become a “certified competitive video provider,” a new designation provided for under a state franchise-reform law. Meanwhile, the state’s attorney general continued to oppose treating the company any differently from incumbent cable providers.

The telco claimed ythe law, which took effect Oct. 1 after being passed and signed into law this summer, provides “the regulatory clarity needed for AT&T to continue its previously announced $336 million network investment and bring new choice to cable customers.” AT&T filed the franchise application about nine months after first offering U-verse TV service in Connecticut.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Monday he will ask the DPUC to reject AT&T’s franchise application because the law does not guarantee that all residents will have access to the Internet Protocol TV service. In municipalities across the country, AT&T has repeatedly argued that U-verse TV is different from traditional cable service and thus not subject to the same regulations.

 “This new application by AT&T seems to accept that they must seek a franchise, but makes a sham of meeting the franchise requirements,” Blumenthal said, in a statement. “All citizens should have access [to U-verse] – not just residents of wealthy or readily served areas.”

The new Connecticut law requires a “competitive video provider” to pay the same quarterly tax on gross earnings as incumbent providers do, and provides for a three-year exemption from personal property taxes on infrastructure upgrades. Incumbent cable operators will be allowed to opt into state regulation 30 days after the entry of a new provider.

Ramona Carlow, AT&T Connecticut’s president overseeing regulatory and external affairs, said in a statement: “The law taking effect today provides relief to Connecticut customers who are fed up with cable prices that rose year after year in the absence of competition.”

Under the new law, the DPUC must act on AT&T’s request 30 days after notifying the company that the application was complete.

Blumenthal in August filed an emergency petition seeking to block AT&T from deploying U-verse TV until it had obtained a cable franchise for the IPTV service. AT&T called it “anti-consumer through and through”; the Connecticut DPUC rejected Blumenthal’s petition on Aug. 31.

AT&T first launched the video service in the state last December. According to the company, U-verse TV is now available to more than 135,000 homes in parts of 40 Connecticut cities and towns. The company said it expects to have approximately 240 U-verse installation technicians employed in Connecticut by the end of 2007.

Nationwide, AT&T claims, it is averaging more than 7,000 U-verse installations each week. The telco last month said U-verse TV had passed the 100,000-subscriber mark.

Separately, AT&T also on Monday announced that U-verse TV is now available to 400,000 homes in Houston, where it takes on Comcast.