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AT&T Wants Piece of Little Rock

The Board of Directors of Little Rock, Ark., took the first step toward allowing AT&T into town with infrastructure improvements that will enable its Internet-delivered video service.

On July 11, the board approved, on first reading, an ordinance that does not require the telephone company to obtain a franchise as a condition to its equipment placement in the right of way.

The ordinance needs two more official readings in order to become effective, according to city officials. That will allow it to take effect Aug. 8 unless a supermajority of the board votes to skip a reading. Then it could take effect as early as July 27.

The ordinance stated that the applicant, AT&T Arkansas, is not required to obtain a separate franchise for Internet-protocol-delivered services. But it also stated that the city is "willing and able to provide an appropriate franchise to AT&T Arkansas that would not adversely impact the terms and conditions of the city's current franchise agreement with Comcast. AT&T Arkansas does not wish to accept this offer."

Instead of engaging in litigation, the ordinance said, and to promote the introduction of new technology, the city and AT&T agreed to the ordinance.

The stance is similar to the thinking behind the operating agreement made with Anaheim, Calif., where city officials reserved their right to seek a franchise should a court or federal regulators mandate that one is needed.

The agreement sparked passionate lobbying by AT&T officials, Comcast and Arkansas cable association representatives. The latter argued that AT&T's product, to the end consumer, is no different than that delivered by incumbent cable operators.

"I've been here 14 years, and this was the best debate I've ever heard," assistant city manager Bryan Day said.