Conn. CLEC Wants SNETs Cable Biz

Connecticut Telephone, a small competitive local-exchange carrier, asked state regulators to back its move to assume the cable operations of Southern New England Telecommunications Corp.

But Connecticut Telephone has apparently not yet approached SNET to see if the telco would consider selling the plant.

"We would think that Connecticut Telephone would have contacted someone at SNET before going to the [Department of Public Utility Control] and having their attorneys issue a press release," SNET spokeswoman Beverly Levy said in a prepared statement. Since no one at SNET or its parent company, SBC Communications Inc., has been contacted directly by the competitor, SNET can't comment further, she added.

SNET obtained a statewide cable franchise-the only one ever issued-and started selling video service in 1997, as part of the Americast consortium. It claims about 30,000 customers in 26 towns and cities, including Branford, Darien, East Haven, Greenwich, Hartford and Stamford.

But SNET has lost interest in hybrid fiber-coaxial technology, over which it once hoped to offer an integrated offering of telephony, video and data.

In April, SNET received DPUC permission to stop building out the cable franchise, claiming the technology had become outdated. SNET's latest application to the DPUC, in August, was to get out of cable altogether by early next year.

If released from franchise obligations, SNET said it would offer rebates of about $40 each to current cable customers to help them make the transition to other service providers. That request is still being reviewed.

In August, an SNET spokeswoman said the company had no intention of selling the cable plant.

Now, Connecticut Telephone wants SNET's franchise, and hopes the DPUC will agree that it would be in the public interest to encourage a wired competitor to incumbent cable operators.

Joe Mazzarella, president of Connecticut Telephone, said his firm did not contact SNET because "no one's in a position to understand what they're going to do. We saw an opportunity and decided to file."

Maintaining a viable competitor to incumbent cable operators qualifies as "a public-interest issue," Mazzarella said. He added he hoped SBC would reject a "scorched-earth" approach and would sell off the plant, rather than dismantle or mothball cable plant that, at least in theory, a competitor could buy and use to steal SNET phone customers.

SBC has shuttered video experiments initiated by regional Bell operating companies it later acquired. In San Diego and Los Angeles County, where Pacific Bell had deployed plant but not launched, SBC pulled fiber from the streets. But in San Jose, Calif., SBC sold the video operation and its customers to what is now AT & T Broadband.

"Thirty thousand customers could be stranded. We're willing to step into the shoes of SNET," Mazzarella said.