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Lightspeed Isn't Cable, Says Connecticut

AT&T's Lightspeed Internet video service is not a cable service, at least according to the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control.

In a 3-2 vote along party lines Wednesday, the department basically ruled that "a byte is a byte is a byte," as Chairman Jack Goldberg sad, whether it is video or data.

That means that AT&T, says Connecticut, is "merely another form of data stream," and therefore not subject to cable franchising requirements.

“Our choice came down to whether the service looks like cable television and should be regulated like cable, as the cable companies contended, or whether the fact that a new technology is producing the video picture should be the decisive factor," said Goldberg last month in releasing the draft decision that was ultimately adopted June 7. "We believe the technology is the key, just as it is in Voice Over the Internet Protocol (VOIP), which is internet telephone service but is unregulated, unlike legacy telephone service,” he said.

With the decision, Connecticut's incumbent local exchange carriers will now be treated differently as they seek to compete for video business. AT&T, which owns Southern New England Telephone, needs no franchise, while Verizon, which says its service is cable TV, must seek one.

AT&T has agreed not to discriminate in service, to provide public, governmental and educational channels (PEG) and made other guarantees that the DPUC said were "critical" to its approval.

According to DPUC spokeswoman Beryl Lyons, although the vote was along party lines, the swing commissioner went back and forth beforehand and made the decision after she entered the room to cast her vote. Lyons also said it would almost certainly be appealed.

She said the two Democratic commissioners who voted against the decision had public interest and consumer protection concerns. One also pointed out that the issue was being dealt with on the federal level and that the DPUC's decision could be premature.